Vivian Maier the Secret Street Photographer

I recently watched Finding Vivian Maier on Netflix. It was a very interesting documentary. She was an extremely talented street photographer.


She lived in Chicago and took photographs for over 40 years.

What makes her so interesting is the fact that she was never paid for any of her photographs. She worked as a nanny. And she never shared her photos with the public. They were discovered by accident after she died.

From the film, it seems like she was an intensely private person with many idiosyncratic behaviors and one hell of an artistic eye.




She often experimented with lighting –


shadows –


and reflections –


She was adept at capturing the more tragic elements of human existence.

September 24, 1959, New York, NY


And during a time period when America’s racial relations could be considered a taboo subject, she photographed racial disparity.

1954, New York, NY

But she never shared her photos with the public. She reminds me of Emily Dickinson, a prolific poet who never published any of her poems. I’ve always felt that this somehow set Dickinson apart from other poets, but it’s hard to say how. Maybe it’s the same for Maier. They both spent their lives pursuing the perfection of an art form and producing lots of work which they never shared with the world. But why?

Dickinson wrote a poem which called publication the auction of the mind of man, but Maier did not leave any explanation as to why she never shared her artistic talents with the public. The documentary film maker couldn’t find out much about her, but what he did find out was fascinating. He had the items she left behind in a storage unit; hundreds of thousands of pictures, many home movies, and various other things But Vivian Maier remains very much surrounded by mystery and intrigue.

I think that she is inspiring. I’m envious of her talent as a photographer, and I’m inspired  by her dedication to an artistic pursuit.

Apparently, some people find her VERY inspirational. This photo is from Pinterest.


But what if she had displayed her photography at a gallery, or sold prints to tourists on the sidewalk of a busy street, would she still be such an inspiration that someone would want to have her likeness tattooed on their arm?

Is there something about keeping your art secret which protects the purity of the it? Does it make that art more appealing?

Please contribute your thoughts. I don’t know the answers to these questions.



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