Opening Exhibit of Vivian Maier

Amsterdam -- 'Vivian Maier, Street Photographer' is a retrospective exhibition featuring the work of the female street photographer at the Foam Photography Museum.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network realize that the photographer's impressive oeuvre was only discovered at the end of her life.

Vivian Maier (New York, 1926 - 2009) worked as a professional nanny throughout her life.

In her free time, she documented life in large American cities such as New York and Chicago, although no one in her immediate circle ever saw the results.

When documentary filmmaker John Maloof bought his first box of Vivian Maier negatives at auction in 2007, he had no idea who the photographer was - in fact neither did anyone else.

Maloof knew the pictures were the work of a certain Vivian Maier, but searching for any history of 'Maier the photographer' was to no avail, as she had never achieved any kind of professional success.

Two years later, after posting some of the Maier's work online and getting an unrestrained euphoric reaction en masse, he tried looking for Maier's history again.

This time, the filmmaker found an obituary, posted only a few weeks earlier - he had missed Maier's life by a hair's breadth - Malooof embarked at once on a journey of discovery into the life of this unknown but obviously talented individual - a journey that led to a very emotive and successful documentary on the then unknown street photographer.

Eventually John Maloof, and a collector Jeffrey Goldstein amassed virtually all of the mysterious photographer's work.

Legal Ordeal

The two then tracked down Maier’s heir and paid the copyrights to the photos. They began to promote and sell the work; until a lawyer and photographer named David C. Deal challenged them in court, claiming that he had located a closer heir that was the rightful owner of the copyright.

Goldstein sold his negatives to gallerist Stephen Bulger rather than face the legal fees of a potentially drawn out case.

The sale involved approximately 17,500 photographic negatives representing about 15% of the entire known Maier collection. The same legal handcuffs are preventing the Stephen Bulgar Gallery from any action until the copyright issues are resolved.

Imposing Collection

Maier left behind an imposing body of work, consisting of 100,000 negatives. Its quality can be compared to that of famed contemporaries like Joel Sternfeld, Joel Meyerowitz, Elliot Erwitt and Garry Winogrand.

Besides photos, she also made countless motion pictures and audio recordings. The exhibition at Foam contains photographic work from the 1950s to 1980s in both black-and-white and color, as well as films.

Maier was an extremely intelligent, curious free spirit - if rather eccentric and solitary. She documented all that caught her attention, in photos as well as sound and motion pictures.

On the street she was inconspicuous: she wore a hat, a long dress, a woolen coat and men's shoes, and she never left the house without a camera around her neck.

Street Documentarian

The secret documentary photographer remained single all her life and never had children of her own. Instead, she worked as a nanny.

The Gensburg's, a well-to-do Chicago family, who Maier worked for and subsequently moved in with in 1956, gave the photographer her own bathroom, which became Maier's first darkroom.

Her photographic work, at first predominately black-and-white, focused on societal subjects: street life, the disadvantaged and emigrants.

But once the Gensburg children grew up in the 1970s, Maier worked with other families, and lost access to her darkroom. She was then no longer able to develop her own film and her exposed film rolls began to pile up - undeveloped as she continued to document the street.

Virtually Homeless

In the 1980s, financial problems led to developments that made Maier's photography more difficult. With no fixed abode, the photographer's rolls of film to continued to be undeveloped.

In the late 1990s, Maier put down her camera for good, and her possessions were placed in storage while she tried to keep her head above financial water.

In response to her situation, the Gensburg children arranged a small studio for her, saving her from becoming homeless.

The photo archive fell into oblivion, however, until it was finally auctioned in 2007. The archive was sold in multiple lots to various parties - and eventually John Maloof came to possess a great deal of the work. Only after he had the work further investigated did its remarkable quality become apparent.

In 2008 Maier suffered a fall on the ice in Chicago and died in April 2009.

After a lifetime in domestic servitude, secretly documenting the streets of America through 100,000 photographs, Maier died in poverty - just on the edge of global recognition - never to know that her work would even receive a glimmer of praise, or understanding.

'Vivian Maier, Street Photographer' is an exhibition based on the material that John Maloof came to own - and is on display at the Foam Photography Museum, Amsterdam until 1 February 2015.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video offers a tiny glimpse of the enormous cache of Vivian Maier photography.