This first essay has been received very well; you have demonstrated a focused understanding of the subject matter, with relevant and very topical points regarding the historical, cultural and photographic themes explored. There are a couple of enquiries that could do with further exploration, such as investigating Maier’s role as a nanny and questioning her position and balance as a photographer. Overall, you have made a good argument in questioning the interpretation of her, over that of her work.
Demonstration of subject based knowledge and understanding
You have evidenced a very good knowledge base and understanding of your chosen subject and its current contextualisation within contemporary study. The image chosen has provided depth and scope for a thorough investigation and analysis, which you have done concisely within the one thousand-word limit. I would imagine that this essay could be expanded; yet it would need to be honed back to focus on the image itself and not so much about the photographer.
The descriptions on how Maier dressed is interesting; it makes sense as to why the publishers focused on this facet, yet still, it is not needed in deciphering her work. As clearly evidenced in the archives of her work, she took a lot of self-portraits; some whilst out on the streets, others produced indoors with perhaps more consideration. This does provide a rich source of material in which to study her and her outward appearance as a photographer.
Demonstration of research skills
There are some excellent research avenues made; not just with this essay, but also with your supporting articles throughout this unit. You have provided a broad mixture of sources that has led to some interesting points. In particular, the passage about Maier’s possible influences and interactions with other photographers, thus challenging Maloof’s notion of Maier being a self-taught and isolated photographer.
As part of your supporting research, it is the comparative juxtaposition between Maier’s images and that of her peers that are intriguing. It possibly strengthens the view, about her interest in the photography of that era; this suggests she may have been influenced by the work of her peers. Or that the images you recalled just have an amazing similarity. Today, these visual similarities are commonplace; but approximately five decades ago the frequency would have been far less, perhaps investigate this further.
Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills
There is a very good level of critical engagement with the concepts, debates and themes surrounding this work. Your analysis of the image is very good and does suggest some pertinent themes surrounding race and class. I wonder though, what first caught her eye? You mention about the structure, the groupings, the various gazes, but what about Maier’s gaze?
We could take an educated guess based upon the camera she was using. The Rolleiflex has a 75mm lens, which would have placed her approximately in the middle of the road, in full view of all of her subjects, she would not have been inconspicuous with this shot. It could be assumed that her initial gaze and frame would not have included the two women or the boy with the wheel in it. They are subjects that came into the frame, which when composing with a WLF allows you to compose and observe outside of the frame simultaneously.
So would it have been the children at the window, the adults talking…? You cannot tell, however you could say, based upon basic compositional structure that the scene is cluttered with no obvious focal point. You mention the elbow of the person standing to the left of the frame, but you can also see their shoe. This to me is intriguing as it indicates a possible discourse occurring with the man in the shirt. I ask why did she crop this person out of the scene, was it considered; or is this scene a hurried snapshot? The distortion and slight angle alludes to this.
You have communicated your ideas to a very good degree, with a well- presented flow and a good range of points; you have presented an overall excellent essay. Your prior investigations into Maier have indeed made an impact and helped guide you with this essay over the course. Your almost have to take your post ‘Vivian Maier: The Photographer’ into account, as the research seems to have contributed significantly to your findings.
Overall, well done. This has been an extensive and thorough project to assess, which has provided some interesting research avenues to explore. As this essay is a theoretical component you need to apply a different set of assessment criterions, these can be found on the student portal.
Just to follow up with some lines of thought regarding this work and the various assumptions made about Maier. I would say that her class and status does have some importance; as during her lifetime she was not considered nor recognised as a professional photographer, but that of a nanny. This contextual detail helps in trying to understand her reasoning and aims behind why she produced such a body of work, what were her intentions?
An area to explore would be the views and opinions of Maier from her former charges. Do these accounts of her, recalled from childhood memories paint an accurate picture? If so, do they have any importance in the reading of her images? This article from ‘The Guardian’ contains comments from a couple of the children she cared for; its primary reference is the Maloof documentary. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/19/our-nanny-vivian-maier- photographer
However, regardless of any information learned about Maier, or for any photographer/artist for that matter; the viewer’s interpretation of an image should only be formed by their cultural and historical understanding of its immediate signs and signifiers. Ascertaining the photographers cultural identity, can aid in further examination of their work, but any conclusions made will still be subjective speculation.
Suggested reading/viewing & Pointers for the next assignment
The final assignment is to produce a single image that is constructed and directed by you. So think on the lines of a tableau, a possible scene that has a multi layered narrative. The brief itself is open to interpretation, but gain plenty of insight into the artists in Part Five for ideas. Although his work has been made with vast resources, Gregory Crewdson is always a good artist to explore.
A photographer that composed some lively scenes through post production techniques is Paul M Smith, his series ‘Make My Night’ is quite rich in detail and social commentary, see: