Vivian Maier: The Photographer

Rome - Steve Middlehurst

Rome – Steve Middlehurst

A few months ago in  Vivian Maier: Commercial Treasure or Artist? I looked at how Vivian Maier’s work became public; subsequently I looked a little more closely in Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits at one selection of her published work; more recently I reviewed the two films that have been made about her in The Vivian Maier Films.

I am basing assignment 4 on one of Vivian Maier’s photographs and as background research want to look a little more closely at her broader work and status as a 20th century photographer.

The Body of Work

In her essay Inventing Vivian Maier (1) Abigail Solomon-Goddeau makes the point that “The relatively limited numbers of her pictures so far available make generalisations highly speculative” and, there is an additional factor that strikes me each time I look at her work; the published photographs are being chosen and published without any apparent  intent to form coherent series or even to pair appropriate images in the same spread, for example in Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found (2) a woman bending over on the beach is paired with a street scene; colour plates are inserted seemingly at random; children in an “unknown” suburb waiting to go swimming is paired with men drinking on waste ground.

Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows (3) appears to be a more thoughtful presentation with pairings that often work with each other, however, I find some of the choices facile such as two sleeping hippos juxtaposed with two sleeping men or the dead pigeon and the sleeping man. In both books the editors would have better served the reader by including just one photograph per spread.

Techniques and Style

Vivian Maier’s very earliest known work was taken with a Brownie box camera during the second period that she lived in France between 1949 and 1951 (xiii). Out of the Shadows includes a selection of these photographs and in them it is possible to see the genesis of her style. Amongst the more general views there are several tightly cropped portraits, mostly taken with the camera at chest or waist level, of the inhabitants of Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur. This type of street portrait becomes one of her motifs when she returns to America.

Based on her published work it appears that she became interested in photography whilst in France and became a serious hobbyist on her return to New York; in 1952 she purchased her Rolleiflex, a significant investment for a nanny (x), a camera that was to be her instrument of choice until the 197os when she added a 35mm camera to her armoury. The square format negative of the Rolleiflex is one of the recognisable aesthetics of her work but Jill Nicholls (4) has identified that a number of her prints were cropped to a vertical aspect emphasising the subject in the centre of the frame. It would be wrong to over analyse this point as only a small selection of her published work is centred in the square frame in a way that would enable this type of cropping but it tells us something of the way she saw her subjects; a significant proportion of her photographs capture either individual people or dynamic relationships between two people and these subjects are often centre of frame. This hints at a primary interest in photographing people and their interactions with each other so perhaps the background was not overly important to her.

A high percentage of her portraits, both candid and posed, are taken from between waist and chest level, a natural way to hold the Rolleiflex, and this angle forms part of her style. Joel Meyerowitz (5) believes that it reflects a desire to be invisible, an idea discussed by Geoff Dyer (see here) as a common street photograph’s approach. Dyer writes that Paul Strand, Dorothea Lange and Dianne Arbus wanted to faithfully record their subjects when they were unaware of the camera’s presence but this is not an obvious feature of Maier’s work. Many of her subjects are cooperating with the photographer, or are photographed from angles that allow a candid approach. There is no evidence that she was looking for Lange’s “cloak of invisibility” but she may have found it easier to confront people without direct eye contact so the subject looks at her or the camera while she looks down at the Rolleiflex’s focusing screen. Either way the chest or waist level portrait which exaggerates the height and power of the subject is a feature of her work.

William Eggleston is known  for his “one picture of one thing” (6) approach to photography, and in the limited number of Maier contact sheets available on-line we can see the same tendency. With Eggleston this approach is entwined with his photographic style and choice of subjects, he stalks the inanimate objects that are often his subject, seeking the right angle for his single shot before capturing one image and moving on.

Vivian Maier

Fig 02 – Vivian Maier

In the case of Maier I suggest that her approach might have had both economic and journalistic motivations. Economic in the sense that photography in the 50s and 60s was an expensive hobby so despite the obvious fact that she was a prolific photographer (i) we know she worked in low paid jobs and must have needed to budget her purchase and processing of film. It is pure supposition but perhaps she allowed herself a roll or two for each of her walks and developed the discipline of selectivity. Journalistic, because I see in her contact sheets an explorer’s journal, a record of a walk in a particular place; occasionally she would see something that was worth several shots but mostly she captures one subject and heads off to look for the next. (ii) In the example above I like to think she has taken two shots on the bus ride to her location, eight shots on location and another two on the bus ride home.

The Thing Itself

John Szarkowski tells us that the photographer’s skill is to see beyond reality and find the “still invisible” picture (8) and that the captured image, by surviving the subject becomes more important than the original event. It is equally true that history is kind to photography with images gaining new layers of meaning as the distance between capture and viewing widens; these ideas are all true of some of Maier’s earlier work. She had the ability to create images that, fifty or sixty years later, have become emblematic of a particular time and a place. For the majority of her audience this feeling is an illusion as only a tiny percentage of us knew the reality of her locations in the middle of the last century, but we believe we know these places from film and still photography giving her images  a nostalgia that potentially clouds our analytical appraisal.

Chicago - Vivian Maier

Fig. 03 Chicago – Vivian Maier

If we put her portraits to one side for a moment she recorded, what to residents of New York or Chicago were, very normal things. Things that other pedestrians passed without noticing and this is the mark of a photographer with Szarkowski’s “eye”. Today street photographers prowl our cities searching for subjects, as photographers we are atuned to the idea of photographing the banal but in 1953 few photographers would have seen the workman’s shoes neatly placed by a fire hydrant or in 1956 the single apple dropped with mathematical precision into the angle between the kerb and a road marking. In the fifties she was seeing the invisible picture in the flotsam and jetsam of the streets in what was at least an unusual if not unique way (iv). Garry Winogrand said that  “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed” and there is a sense that Maier shared the same perspective.


Staying with Szarkowski’s approach to viewing photographs it is interesting to look at the detail in Maier’s work. This is probably as close as I will get to symbolism because I don’t see Maier as a photographer who thought in those terms but she did have the ability to identify a detail that held enough significance to represent a wider whole, or to hint at a narrative.

Fig. 4 New York 1954 - Vivian Maier

Fig. 04 New York 1954 – Vivian Maier

Maier was interested in hands and in human interactions so fig. 04 New York 1954 brings these two elements together in a single image. There are a number of other published images where the hands are a much more dominant feature but don’t include the relationship perspective that I wanted to highlight here.

The street is full of people so a selective photographer like Maier needed a specific reason to select her subjects and this reason is often is often in the detail, the couple smoking by an empty shop in Milwaukee might have appealed because they appear to have synchronised their hand movements and whilst the women sits on a fold-up chair the man is holding its twin; it begs the question of why were they there equipped with chairs, what are they waiting for that required this equipment?


It is often suggested that Henri Cartier-Bresson selected a background full of the geometric forms he loved and waited for someone interesting to walk into his “set” but whilst a love of form is apparent in many of Maier’s street scenes there remains a sense of spontaneity, the right elements combining as she looked in the viewfinder. There is a photograph taken in Chicago of a man leaning on a newspaper vending machine, he is just off centre in the frame surrounded by strong shapes, a flag flutters above his head, an out of focus silhouette frames him from the left, a face frames him from the right and the newspaper machine points up at him.

Chicago 1961 - Vivian Maier

Fig. 05 Chicago 1961 – Vivian Maier

In her more general city views  form appears important but frequently there is a hint of casualness about the framing in these shots which suggests her instincts were as a spontaneous photographer, used to capturing the moment and that, when confronted with beautiful graphic shapes. she still framed and shot quickly. As a result it is her street scenes, such as fig. 05 above, using form that are the more memorable photographs.


There appears little doubt that Maier was interested in shadows, her frequent return to shadow self portraits is testament to this, but looking at her broader work there are a number of high contrast images that feature strong light and shadows.

New York - Vivain Maier

Fig. 06 New York – Vivain Maier

The photograph included at fig. 06 above is not typical of the images we can review but it is one of a number that concentrate on the geometry of light and shadow. This particular photograph has a strong structure with three distinct and contrasting spaces linked by the moving figures and their shadows but with a single static figure in the centre of the frame that anchors the composition and provides a classic juxtaposition between movement and stillness.

Much of her work is taken in strong light, probably as the afternoons were the time when she was free to roam the streets, so other than shadows, we don’t often see her using light in a particularly creative way; but an exception is her 1961 photograph of sailors waiting in a station concourse with beams of light slanting down from high windows. Similar to  her well known lady in a white dress approaching a black car at night this is one of those photographs where we can wonder whether she would have selected it for printing or publication; selection or rejection is the most basic context that we are continually denied in Maier’s work. Both these photographs suffer from camera shake as a result of the low light and whilst both are eye catching compositions we will never know whether she would have accepted these technical imperfections or responded to the beautiful interplay of light and dark.

The Portraits

It is worth considering her street portraits as a separate topic as based on the work that is available to us, this was her real subject. I will discuss potential  influences a little later but in these portraits we can find similarities to Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and, to some extent, Diane Arbus. Unlike Arbus she probably didn’t seek out what Arbus called “freaks” but she certainly had an eye for the unusual and her collections include several portraits of subjects who had been inflicted by injury or disease. In this century we might ask whether these people were acceptable street photography subjects, Martha Rosler writing in 1981 (28) was  highly critical of exploitive photography by what she calls the “Nikon set”; her criticism of both amateur and professional photographers is particularly centred on photographing the under-class who once inhabited the Bowery in New York, one of Maier’s regular locations before she moved to Chicago.

Whatever her motives, these portraits of the people she met in the poorer districts of New York and Chicago are some of her strongest work. In the classic Maier portrait the subject’s chest and head either fills most of the frame or, if she is in the mood to give us some context, they are captured from waist to head and slightly off centre; in either case the subject is usually engaged with the photographer, many smile or stare at Maier rather than at the camera which is angled upwards from her chest giving power and authority to people who perhaps possessed little of either in life.

Along with working class men she often photographed middle aged women in a similar fashion but they often look stern and disapproving, did they wonder why a women was taking photographs, did her vintage fashion sense or apparent working-class status offend them? The lighting is as found, sometimes side-lit creating texture and contrast, sometimes with the subject in full sun or full shade.

There are also amusing and quirky shots like the little boy in his Mickey Mouse ears, the hand-standing man in front of the Striporama poster; the very tall man and his friend looking in a shop window; the cinema ticket seller partly obscured by the communication hole in her window and framed by reflected theatre advertisements.

We know that she walked in many of New York and Chicago’s tougher districts so the frequency of her shots of the poor is not necessarily surprising and we might never know whether there is an underlying social commentary or whether it is all about the composition or the capture of specimens for her collection. Based on her portfolio it is clear that she revisited many of these districts on a regular basis and one wonders whether she became a recognisable character who was accepted by the locals, perhaps in the way Tom Wood became know as the “Photie Man” in the streets of Liverpool in the 1970s.

Motifs and Common Subjects

I want to specifically mention some of her serialised subjects not so much because they are unusual but more because they were unusual for a hobbyist in the 1950s and 60s and more usually the domain of the well known professional urban photographers.

Feet and legs are quite common in her work, she likes the juxtaposition of skinny legs and large objects, or larger legs and thin objects, the legs of a lady whose skirt has blown up in the wind, a shop assistant’s feet peaking out beneath the blind he is hanging in a window, elderly men in shorts, discarded shoes, workmen’s shoes, dirty shoes on the doormat. Did she see shoes as a symbol of people’s lifestyle and status or did she just see interesting compositions at ground level?

Ladies’ hats are a common feature but this was a time when most Americans wore hats so the hats mentioned as an interest by some writers are potentially coincidental; if she liked photographing middle aged women she was inevitably going to photograph a lot of hats.

Current affairs appears to have been important to Maier, we know from photographs of her own bag that she read Time Magazine and broadsheet Newspapers and she regularity returns to the news as a subject. Newspapers being sold, read, stacked, discarded in bins, crumpled by park benches, floating in the gutter, or waiting to be read on the coffee table. We cannot know whether the headlines are important or whether it is the process of the dissemination of the news that intrigues her.

Her self portraits are discussed elsewhere (here) and children regularly feature both in her street photography and the pictures she took in the suburbs where her employers lived, both are taken with the same detached style, she appears to be a tourist in her own life, an observer rather than someone who is emotionally connected to her subjects, including when she is the subject.

Documentarist or Journalist

No one has successfully answered the question of why Maier photographed the streets of New York and then Chicago for year after year. We know that by the time she reached Chicago she appears to made no attempt to be published but she continued to add to her archive of street photographs. I find it difficult to classify her as a documentarist, there is no obvious social agenda, she is not known to be politically active in any other way and apart from having a few favourite subjects her published portfolio is quite varied. I see her more as a freelance journalist who diligently recorded the world around her as an extensive visual diary, not so much of her life but of the lives that ebbed and flowed around her. If she has access to an incident, a boy falling from his bike, a policeman arresting a vagrant, the aftermath of the Chicago riots she records the event. This mind set might help to explain her photographs of newspapers and television screens, the process of news gathering and dissemination which in some way she saw herself a part of.

Social Context

It is relevant to consider Maier’s work in the context of her social status; she was born in the Bronx in 1926 to immigrant parents into what appears to have become a complex family unit where she and her mother lived apart from her brother and father for an extended period (vii). We know she spent some time in France with her mother between 1932 and 1938 and may have returned again to France in 1949 to settle a family inheritance, a visit that resulted in the earliest published photographs in her archive (xiii). She may have worked in a factory before visiting France but obtained her first job as a child carer soon after her return in 1951 at the age of twenty five. It appears likely that she had not pursued any further education after leaving school but her father had a good job in 1940 (ix) earning well above the average wage and the family were able to fund her trip to France in 1949 so they were not poor. In summary she was from a working class immigrant family, had received a basic education leaving school with no particular qualifications that would enable her to aspire to a well paying professional career but she had seen a little piece of the world outside of New York.

We may never know why she turned to photography in such a focussed and committed way but it became an obsession for the next 50 years. We naturally look at her photographs in the context of both her contemporaries and later 20th and 21st century street photographs but apart from a few notable exceptions her social and financial status, life experiences and educational achievements were quite different to her contemporaries.

Elliot Erwitt was born just two years after Maier, in Paris, an immigrant to the United States he was a teenager in Hollywood where he worked in a commercial darkroom and studied photography at the Los Angeles City College. He was living in New York at the same time as Maier and worked his way through film classes at the New School for Social Research in return for janitorial work. He was drafted in 1951, just as Maier started work as a child carer, and in the army worked as a photographer in Germany and France. He knew Steichen, Capa and Styker and joined Magnum in 1953. (16) At first glance his Rolleiflex camera is not the only similarity with Maier, he was an immigrant and not adverse to taking low paid work to support himself while he developed his plans and even as a professional photographer he continued to also pursue photography as a hobby (17) but if we look a little closer, he grew up in Milan, New York and Hollywood as the son of a wealthy and artistic Russian mother and an unworldly but intellectual, Jewish father and travelled to Europe as a serviceman; he was clever, witty and worldly wise.

Inge Morath, was born in Austria in 1923 and studied languages in Berlin at a time when Germany was one of Europe’s most vibrant, cultured, politically active yet decadent cities (xi). As a friend of Ernst Haas she was invited by Haas and Capa to work for the newly formed Magnum Photos as an editor and researcher and two years later in 1953 she had joined Magnum as a photographer. An intellectual and well connected woman who learned Mandarin to enable her to visit and photograph China in the 1970s, she was connected to and part of the elite American art scene marrying the playwright Arthur Miller. (20)

Eve Arnold, another first generation American was born fifteen years before Maier in 1912 to Russian immigrant parents. She discovered photography by accident when given a camera by a friend and went on to study with Alexey Brodovitch (xii) at the same school as Erwitt, the New School for Social Research (18). She was associated with Magnum as early as 1951 and became a full member in 1957.

Marilyn Silverstone, was born in London in 1929 but was the grandchild of Polish  Jews who have moved to America to escape the pogroms (18). Her father was a movie mogul for 20th Century Fox. She was educated at Wellesley College in Massachusetts before becoming an associated editor for Art News, Industrial Design and Interiors in the 1950’s. By 1955 she was a freelance photographer working around the world before joining Magnum as an associate in 1964. (21) Eve Arnold described her in Magnum Brava (18): “The suit was French, stylish, expensive and probably designed by Dior. The fair-haired, tall women who wore it was heedless of its chic.”

Garry Winogrand, photographed the same New York streets as Maier and there are other similarities. Much of his later work, sixty-five hundred rolls, was left unprocessed or processed and never proofed. He left no diaries or artist statements as if he realised that his work was too ambiguous in nature to create limited sequences for publication. (22) Also born in the Bronx just two years after Maier his break came after he returned from conscripted service courtesy of the GI Bill which funded his attendance at the City College of New York in 1947 and then Columbia University in 1948. He was introduced to photography by the school’s newspaper photographer and like Erwitt and Arnold went on to study with Alexey Brodovitch (xii) at the New School for Social Research (23). Starting his professional career as a photo journalist and featuring in an exhibition at the MoMA as early as 1955 he developed his highly personal style on the streets of New York in the 1960s.

Robert Frank, born in Zurich in 1924 was talent spotted by Alexey Brodovitch (xii) after he emigrated to America in 1947. Harper’s Bazaar employed him as a roving fashion photographer enabling him travel to France and England before returning to America where, supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, he undertook his seminal work The Americans which was published in 1958 (25).

Vivian Maier and the contemporaries profiled above were all from immigrant stock; but that verges upon meaningless, in the period between 1900 and 1930 nearly 19 million Europeans emigrated to the United States, in 1910 three-quarters of the population of New York, Chicago, Detriot and Boston were first and second generation immigrants, (26) so it would have been more surprising if these photographers had not been from immigrant families.

I am more interested here in the differences, why did Maier pursue her obsession in undiscovered secrecy while Erwitt, Silverstone, Winnogrand, Arnold, Frank and many others became recognised artists? The mysterious Maier cult view would be that she did not want her work to be seen but this is not necessarily substantiated by the facts; when she first returned from France she brought a large number of prints with her and investigated whether she could to send more negatives back to France to be printed, Pamela Bannos believes that before she moved to Chicago in 1956 she intended to show her work and that her vintage New York prints were made with this in mind (27), she points out that one hundred and fifty exhibition quality prints were purchased by a buyer at the 2007 storage locker auction.

Like any other era, in the 1950’s and 60’s  “being discovered” relied on the alignment of a sufficient number of circumstances including the artist’s talent, social and professional contacts, social standing, a supportive or creative family environment, the artist’s alma mater, their business acumen, drive, single mindedness, intellect and a large slice of luck. Maier was dealt very few of these cards by her seemingly dysfunctional family and low status lifestyle, the US Government didn’t send her to university like Winogrand, her father didn’t expose her to the thriving art culture of the West Coast like Erwitt, unlike Frank she had no access to Alexey Brodovitch or have the sophisticated and wealthy background of Silverstone or the intellect and contacts of Morath.

She was a ordinary girl, with a basic education, born into a working class family who probably neither understand her passion nor recognised art or photography as a viable career. She was a woman in a male dominated society, a third generation domestic servant returning from France bursting with exciting ideas and artistic aspirations that my grandmother, also a second generation domestic servant in the 1920s and 30s, would have referred to as being “above her station”. We may never know why she failed to establish a business selling her prints or whether she tried to show her portfolio to curators and we will certainly never know how her photographer’s eye might have flourished if she had studied with Brodovitch or worked with Haas. In many ways her photography is defined and limited by her gender and class.


Before finishing, I want to touch on one final subject. As discussed previously (here) it suits the commercial aspirations of John Maloof to described her as a self taught and isolated photographer. Pamela Bannos (27) has cast doubt on this view by pointing out her visit to the MoMA during The Five French Photographers (29) exhibition but I believe that her connection with contemporary photography runs deeper than this.

There is a 1954 print in A Photographer Found of a man sitting in a bathroom processing prints. We know nothing of her relationship with this man and it is very thin evidence of her interaction with other photographers but it certainly proves that she was not completely isolated.

We can look at her work, many of the her contemporaries discussed above were publishing and exhibiting in the 50’s and 60s’. I accept Bannos’ idea that she visited the MoMA and as very keen photographer living in vibrant artistic East Coast cities she had the opportunity to visit galleries and review photo books in public libraries. We know that she owned a “number” of photo books but frustratingly we don’t know which artists were represented in her collection. I am convinced that she had seen the work of the great photographers that proceeded her or who were working at the same time as her early and most exciting work.

Vivian Maier and Eve Arnold

Fig. 07 Vivian Maier –  Eve Arnold

Vivian Maier and Elliot Erwitt

Fig. 08 Vivian Maier –  Elliot Erwitt

Vivian Maier and Garry Winogrand

Fig. 09 Vivian Maier – Garry Winogrand

Fig. 10 Vivian Maier and Paul Strand

Fig. 10 Vivian Maier – Paul Strand

Fig. 11 Vivian Maier and Dorothea Lange

Fig. 11 Vivian Maier – Dorothea Lange

The selection above was not compiled as the result of intensive research, it is based on images recalled when reviewing Maier’s work. There are others that come to mind including Lee Friedlander’s shadow self portraits, Dorothea Lange’s shots of children and some of her portraits, Paul Strand’s head on portraits of working men, Garry Winogrand’s street portraits, the newspaper photographs from André Kertész’s On Reading series, Lisette Model’s reflections and self portraits or Helen Levitt’s neighbourhood children.

It is easy enough to identify differences and to dismiss any similarities of subject or style as coincidences and I accept that more diligent research could prove that Maier could not have seen the work of these artists. Pamela Bannos’ forthcoming book may shed some light on Maier’s influences or might even substantiate Maloof’s convenient marketing pitch of the self-taught-genius but until such research becomes available I believe that Maier was a student of contemporary photography and influenced by a cross-section of American photographers.

Notes on Text

(i) Abigail Solomon-Goddeau (1) quotes Michael Williams, a contributing editor on two books of Maier images, as estimating her output at 5,000 images for each decade of her active life. This translates into just slightly more than 8 rolls of 12 exposures a week, more than 1 a day.

(ii) Like many assumptions about Maier this is based on very thin evince, I have only found sixteen of her contact sheets on line.

(iii) John Szarkowski’s book, The Photographer’s Eye, is discussed in more length in Other Perspectives – John Szarkowski.

(iv) I have spent some time looking for photographs from the 1950s that are similar to her pictures of discarded or placed trivial objects. There are examples from photographers such as Elliot Erwitt, Lee Friedlander and William Eggleston  but they are much later.

(v) Dyer suggests that hands are notoriously difficult to draw so it was a subject where photography came into its own but that was probably a motivation that faded the longer photography existed.

(vi) Geoff Dyer writes extensively about hands as a photographic motif starting with Henry Fox-Talbot and continuing through many of the photographers who were active before Maier or who were her contemporaries including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Paul Strand (v).  Hands are as individual as our face, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “Hands have a history of their own, they have, indeed, their own Culture.” they can represent what Peter Miller (11) calls the human intervention upon nature or perhaps in the case of Dorothea Lange’s Hands, Toquerville, Utah  the intervention of life upon humans. Equally they can represent identity as in Paul Strand’s Rebecca’s Hands  or relationships as in Lange’s Hands, Maynard and Dan Dixon

(vii)There are a number of references to the effect that by her fourth birthday her father had left the family and that according to the 1930 census the head of the household was Jeanne Bertrand, a 49-year-old French photographer (viii) but according to Jim Leonhirth (12) who is researching her history they are back in Manhattan and living with her father in 1940. He also suggests that in the 1930’s the father may not have been estranged and that, for reasons of space, the family could have been split across two apartments either side of St. Mary’s Park in the Bronx. Sometime between 1930 and 1940 Vivian was taken to France to live and we know that they were there in 1935. 

(viii) Jeanne J. Bertrand was reported by the Boston Globe in 1902 (13) as the factory worker who became an artist, “one of the most famous photographers in Connecticut” and who is “becoming one of the great artistic photographers of the country”. The article tells us that she was a fatherless girl who escaped her life as a factory worker in a needle factory by attending photography conventions and studying photography from the age of about seventeen until managing to secure a role as a assistant to an established commercial photographer. It is not clear how long Maier lived in Betrand’s household or what Bertrand’s relationship with her family may have been. It appears to be tenuous to suggest that Bertrand was an influence on the young Maier.

(ix) According to Michael Williams (3) her father was employed as a steam engineer on a salary of $2,000 a year in 1940. The USA National Archive (14) shows that the average wage in this same census was $1,368 and that unemployment was 18.26% so Charles Maier was at least comfortably off.

(x) The Rolieflex III 2.8 was $285 in December 1952 (15), approximatley 7.5% of the then average wage. In today’s terms this would equate to a purchase of $3,600.

(xi) According to Designing Worlds (19) 1920s Berlin was “a city that was open to experimentation and innovation like no other.”

(xii) Alexei (or Alexey) Brodovitch was born in Russia in 1898 and after fighting with the Russian Army in the First World War became a graphic designer in paris in the 1920s. He is credited with revolutionising American magazine design after he moved to New York and started working at Harper’s Bazaar in 1934. He not only commissioned work from photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Man Ray but was the Art Director at Harper’s Bazaar and mentor to a generation of American Photographers including Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. He was a photographer in his own right. (24)

(xiii) There comes a point where the facts start to get in the way of a good story. John Maloof believes she visited France in 1949 and the photos from that trip seem to fit conveniently into the story line but Pamela Bannos says that the trip was not until 1959 and that photographs she has seen of her passport substantiates this alternative timeline. I am not in a position to judge who is correct and despite my instinct to trust Bannos the professional over Maloof the amateur I have stayed with the 1949 trip because it helps to explain why she was so excited about photography in the early 50s.



(2) Maloof, John (2014) Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found. New York: Harper Design

(3) Cahan, Richard and Williams Michael (2012) Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows. Chicago: CityFiles Press

(8) Szarkowski, John ( 2007) The Photographer’s Eye (originally published in 1966 and based on a 1964 exhibition at the MoMA) New York: The Museum of Modern Art

(9) Dyer, Geoff (2012) The Ongoing Moment (originally published in 2005 by Little and Brown). London: Canongate Books (Kindle Edition)

(10) Barthes, Roland. (1980) Camera Lucida. London: Vintage Books

(17) Erwitt, Elliot (2001) Snaps. (2013 abridged edition) London and New York: Phaidon

(18) Stevenson, Sara; Rossellini, Isabella; Amanpour, Christiane; McDonald, Sheena (1999) Magna Brava: Magnum’s Women Photographers. Munich, London and New York: Prestel Veriag.

(22) Rubinfien, Leo (2013) Garry Winogrand. New Haven and London: Yale University Press


(5) Nicholls, Jill (2013) Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny’s Pictures. Produced and Directed by Jill Nicholls for BBC Imagine, Presented by Alan Yentob. A BBC Arts Production


(1) Solomon-Goddeau, Abigail (2013) Inventing Vivian Maier (accessed at Jeu de Paume 26.7.15) –

(4) Nicholls, Jill (2013) Vivian Maier: Lost Art of an Urban Photographer (accessed at BBC Arts 26.7.15) –

(6) The Colourful Mr Eggleston, (2009) Directed by Jack Cocker and Rainer Holzemer and edited by Alan Yentob for the BBC’s Imagine programme, BBC Scotland (accessed at BBC iPlayer 26.1.14)

(7) Maier, Vivian. (1953 – ) Contact Sheets (accessed at Vivian Maier “Official” website 29.7.15) –

(11) Miller, Peter N. (2013) Cultural Histories of the Material World (accessed at Academia 31.7.15) –

(12) Leonhirth, Jim (2012) Vivian Maier’s Family (accessed at tecomm 2.8.15) –

(13) The Boston Globe (1902) From Factory to High Place as Artist: Jeanne J. Bertrand, a girl of 21, has become one of the Eminent Photographers of Connecticut (accessed at tecomm 2.8.15) –

(14) The National Archive (2012) Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
The 1940 Census: Employment and Income (accessed at National Archives 2.8.15) –

(15) Rolleiflex Advert December 1952 (accessed at Flickr 2.8.15) –

(16) Erwitt, Elliot. Biography (accessed at Magnum Photos 2.8.15) –

(19) Primperfect (2013) Join Designing Worlds Unter den Linden as we Explore 1920s Berlin. (accessed at Designing Worlds 2.8.15) –

(20) Morath, Inge. Biography (accessed at Magnum Photos 2.8.15) –

(21) Silverstone, Marilyn. Biography (accessed at Magnum Photos 2.8.15) –

(23) Blumberg, Naomi. Garry Winogrand: American Photographer. (accessed at Encyclopaedia Britannica 2.8.15) –

(24) Encyclopaedia Britannica. Alexey Brodovitch: American Graphic Designer (accessed at accessed at Encyclopaedia Britannica 2.8.15) –

(25) Frank, Robert. Biography. (accessed at Danziger Gallery 2.8.15) –

(26) Spartacus Educational. Immigration to the USA: 1900-1920 (accessed at Spartacus Educational 2.8.15) –

(27) Bannos, Pamela – Vivian Maier’s Fractured Archive. (Accessed at the Vivian Maier Project 26.7.15) –

(28) Rosler, Martha (1981) In, Around and Afterthoughs (on documentary photography) (accessed 2014 at the Everyday Archive) –

(29) Museum of Modern Art (1951) Journalist Photography from France to be shown in Five French Photographers (Accessed at MoMA 26.4.15) –

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1 Response to Vivian Maier: The Photographer

  1. Catherine says:

    Very thorough and interesting. It almost seems as if she was a compulsive photographer who was interested in anything and everything. I had a ‘comments’ discussion with Holly where we agreed that carrying a camera and taking photographs can be a good way for an isolated and introverted person to feel part of what’s going on around them. I had another thought as well – taking photographs can give you permission to gaze for longer at people.

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