In 2007 at a nursing home in Chicagoland, Vivian Maier quietly passed away at 83 years old. Unbeknownst to those near her deathbed, Ms. Maier, a lifelong nanny, left behind a treasure trove of nearly 100,000 photographic negatives from her escapades throughout Chicagoland. Ms. Maier used a Rolleiflex, a German-made high-end camera notable for its positioning at the waist, a skyward facing viewfinder allowing the photographer to look down versus at the subject, and larger than typical negative rolls with 6cm x 6cm (square) output (think Instagram today!), to capture her photos.
Many of Maier’s pictures are abrupt, spontaneous snapshots of life as she saw it, and she often avoided detection due to the nature of how the Rolleiflex operates. Subjects range from the homeless, to the children she cared for, to bustling streescapes. Interestingly, Ms. Maier, while clearly not a sufferer of vanity, took countless “selfies”, many of her shadow or her reflection cast in interesting poses, to create artistic effects. These effects established her style as unique to the photography of her era.
Adding interest to the mystique, Ms. Maier rarely developed her photographs. How could she have known what was working, and what was not? Perhaps it was of no consequence to her. Perhaps, with her income as a nanny, she could not afford to develop her pictures. Whatever the cause may have been, it was only after her work went “viral” in the late 2000’s that the art world begin to appreciate the depth of her collection, and sheer, spectacular nature of what it contained.
Roberta Smith, writing for the New York Times, encapsulated Ms Maier’s body of work stating that she “may add to the history of 20th-century street photography by summing it up with an almost encyclopedic thoroughness, veering close to just about every well-known photographer you can think of, including Weegee, Robert Frank and Richard Avedon, and then sliding off in another direction. Yet they maintain a distinctive element of calm, a clarity of composition and a gentleness characterized by a lack of sudden movement or extreme emotion."
Holladay Properties, in celebration of our history with Chicago, and in our embracement of the arts, has acquired 21 individual Vivian Maier prints to adorn the walls of Burlington Station Luxury Residences, our new apartment community in Downtown Downers Grove, IL. While we hope residents will have the same sense of enthusiasm and excitement upon uncovering this “hidden gem”, we are overjoyed to be able to participate in sharing the story of Vivian Maier, both in this blog, and in the photographic prints that we have acquired.
To learn more about Ms. Maier and her photographs, visit:
Photographs courtesy of LIP International.
Written by Drew Mitchell, Holladay Properties VP-Development