(Video link HERE.) In the March 31st New Yorker, Anthony Lane asks a compelling question in his review of Finding Vivian Maier, a documentary about the nanny who, during the 50′s and 60′s, secretly photographed 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. Writes Lane:

Most telling of all is the social attitude that the move enshrines, and that you hear in the testimony of those who knew Maier in their youth...none can quite believe that art, of a serious nature, was going on under their noses, and that the hired help, of all people, was responsible. The implication—and this was mid-twentieth century America, not nineteenth-century Britain — is that Vivian Maier knew her mind, but somehow not her place. Near the start of the film, Maloof himself asks, ‘Why is a nanny’—he pauses for a brief laugh—‘taking all these photos?” To which the only possible reply should be: Why not? 

Lane puts his finger on an insidious “editor” that can easily creep into our thought processes and stop us from doing the creative work we want to do, without our even realizing it. It is a wonder that though Maier may have felt the social pressures around her to “act like a nanny”, she managed to make art, daily, ANYWAY.


vivian maier
vivian maier

If you’ve found illumination, joy, or inspiration in this post, please consider supporting Improvised Life. It only takes a minute to make a secure donation that helps pay our many costs. A little goes a long way towards helping Improvised Life continue to live ad-free in the world.

Support Improvised Life ♥

3 replies on “How Vivian Maier Defied the Norm and Made Her Secret Art

  1. I find it surprising that so many people are surprised to find that Meier was able to combine a career as a nanny with her passion for photography. How many talented actors, painters, writers ply a trade (waiters, cab drivers, barristas) to support themselves while they practice the art that drives the soul? Not everyone who is passionate about creating art is a careerist. It is easy to forget that creating is not equal to making a living, but rather is often antithetical to it.

  2. Sorry, I just noticed I misspelled Vivian Maier’s name. (Reminder to self: edit!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *