A number of people alerted us to this compelling video  about Viviane Meier, who, while working as a nanny in Chicago during the 50’s and 60’s, was secretly photographing life the street-life of Chicago during her time off. It was not until years after her death that her enormous body of photographic work was found.

Maier was private, eccentric, and determined in her pursuit: a true artist committed to her singular vision, which she quietly funded through her work as a nanny, and which few people seemed to know about. Her work is an evocative and beautiful record of a time long gone, and of a truly improvised life.

You can view Maier’s work on the site created by the young man who found, and is archiving, her work.

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10 replies on “the secret art of viviane maier

  1. Thank you for this post Sally. I’ve been immersed in the blog you directed us to, perusing Viviane’s photographs and reading the story behind them. As I looked at one arresting image after another I kept thinking of the word “punctum” — a concept explained by the cultural critic Roland Barthes in his essay about the lasting emotional effect of certain photographs. “Punctum” refers to a kind of puncture or wound that results when a viewer feels a direct (and personal) relationship with an object or person within a photograph. I felt that often with these images. And now I want to fly to Chicago to see the exhibition….

  2. Very, very interesting. Beautiful pictures, many of them of the highest quality. It is very difficult to keep such a high standard for a long time. Unusual, even for many famous artists. It reveals the talent of this woman. Thanks for the post.
    Sally, how are you ?

  3. Hi Paolo, Thanks for your comment and the big Hello! Really nice to hear from you.

  4. THANK YOU Pamela. I had never heard the word “Punctum” which is, in itself, very powerful. It says everything about that kind of response. It is a kind of wound, and also a puncturing of the subtle armoring we all have. What also moves me is Maier’s silent determination and commitment to her personal work, and the relationship one feels of this lone woman to her subjects.

  5. Stunning work! Having never been to Chicago, I am also tempted to fly there to see the exhibit. I am thinking there must be some lovely backdrops of Chicago’s historic architecture in addition to the lovely portraits. Thanks so much for this post!

  6. Yes, her personal work seems as though it was the invisible fuel she required in order to exist. She didn’t need the approval of a mentor or an audience, which is rare in an artist. Viviane’s self portraits are fascinating to me — a kind of visual timeline of her life as well as chapter title pages for her body of work. I am curious to know what she was photographing at various stages of her life.

    I am also quite amazed at John Maloof’s willingness to change his life’s course and take on this project with such intense focus and passion (and financial demands). It speaks to the quality of the work Maier generated but also to John’s sense of responsibility for what he discovered. I imagine there are moments when he wishes he had never found this treasure and moments where the “high” is like something people take substances to induce.

    I can’t stop thinking about the whole story…

  7. I know, the whole thing brings up so many questions. I too wondered about Maloof’s willingness to become caretaker of this archive. It is a huge responsibility – and the sheer volume of work exhausting – which he expressed a couple of times in the film. I know that he runs (or ran) a historical society, so certainly has an eye for treasure. The video implied (or was it something else I read?) that he is hoping the archive will be considered the treasure it is, and that he might in fact have something worth a great deal.

    It is a rare and amazing thing.

  8. I have had only a moment to visit the photos and must enjoy them longer later, but take this moment to Thank You for this link! I have been a B&W photo junkie ever since discovering a cache of old LIFE magazines in the attic, then buying my first 35mm camera with the proceeds from my war bonds. Photos like this remind me of a world that has largely vanished, and of a particular manner of depicting them that seems also to have gone out of style. What an enormously talented person with a unique pair of eyes.

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