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As an adjunct to the Tangents blog, the intention with this forum is to answer any questions, and allow a diverse discussion of topics related photography. With that, see it as an open invitation to just climb in and start threads and to respond to any threads.

Finding Vivian Maier

ZenonZenon Member
edited April 2014 in home
I wish I had found her negatives. Showing in my city on Thursday.



  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    edited May 2014
    I saw the movie last week in New York.
    Very interesting. She was a flawed person, like we all are in some way. She had a remarkable talent though.
    I'd highly recommend this movie.
  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited April 2014
    There has been a lot of talk at POTN about her work being exploited after she became famous. Trying to decide of she was so meticulous that she wanted to be discovered after passing. I have not seen the movie but like you said Neil, everything I have seen and read so far makes me think she was a savant at some level, if even slight. I'm no expert so I'm more than likely wrong but I don't think that her goal was to be famous one day.
  • ZenonZenon Member
    We went last night. She obviously had issues and had she been born 30 - 40 years later probably would have had been treated for it. Lots of advances in that area. Question is if she had been treated would she have produced 100,000 + negatives?

    As for being exploited that is a hard call. Is the guy going to make a pile of money on this? Yes, however the question is did he go the extra steps to make more or to show the world how good she was and share her story. Maybe a bit of both but I'm going go with he felt the world should know her story. He is was going to be rich anyway. He did not have to set up that gallery in her parents home town which I figure he probably funded.

    As for her not being recognized in the art world because she did not print her work. I figure when you get to an elite level in anything come the politics, etc. All of a sudden this person comes out of nowhere, rocks the photo world and there are elite artists who have been at it for decades.

    Did she want to be discovered after death? They said they thought she wanted to but I'm not so sure. Was it the right thing to do? I think it was. She was very good and doing things in a time that very few people did without training and probably very little contact with other photographers. She was a natural. I like the part in the movie when the guy from the village said the only time people took pictures were at communions and weddings. She was different.

    I'm glad they did this documentary. They did not hold back on her dark side when it came to a few stories of abuse which I found interesting. It was sad how lonely she was at the end and with treatment it may have been different. I think she deserves the recognition because of her work and how she spent her final years. No one should have to go through that.

    About the the people who participated. You have to weed through that as you never know who thinks they can make a dollar from this in some way. Hard to tell but it would not surprise me if we see this one day in some way.
  • ZenonZenon Member
    On pay per view now I noticed.
  • I shall have to watch this. I find this sort of story extremely interesting and intriguing. I am not able to comment yet as I have only seen the preview and read Zenon and Neil's comments above.
  • edited May 2014
    I have a question and observation. Regarding this Vivian Person. Please, no disrespect intended nor implied by this. I often see these older B/W photographs, that are Blurred, Grainy, some very much so, content so so, and some simply awesome. Today, if you see a photograph of relatively same content and IQ, people say, oh those are terrible, Way too much Noise, too blurry. odd content. Something must be wrong with your camera or technique. What EXACTLY makes the older Film camera photos with soooo much noise better, in ANY way, then say someone using a camera like Neils new Nikon D4s, or a Canon 5DMIII, and shooting in B/W? I see the work of so many people on this site, that too me, blows hers away. I've gone thru multiple old family albums of my own, as well as friends with VERY OLD B/W pictures as well, but saw nothing of note in them. Pretty much similar in content and IQ. What captivates people by seeing old grainy(noisey) pictures? There are literally millions upon millions of old film B/W pictures floating around. Am I reading too much into this or am I missing something? I'm quite sure I'll get a lot of negative feedback but I have to know what is it that makes her more special then anyone today? And yes, the story in and of itself is quite interesting.

    So, despite all of the above, if any of us were today, to take similar pictures, store them away in a locker or storage area, and found many years later, would the effect and emotion be the same, and would there be this feverd frienzy over them? Or, would they be worth absolutely zero? Something to ponder.
  • TrevTrev Moderator

    You make a valid point Penn, while I have not seen anywhere near the amount of pics taken, there is no way on earth that just because is was BW shot way back when, does it make them all great.

    Most certainly, only from the perspective of a photographer a lot would be classed mundane and boring, the thing is that such images probably would be of a 'capture in time' therefore regardless of the quality, it's the documenting of such a time frame which is of importance.

    But yes, I do see your point, it's the nostalga/memories which are of benefit in this particular case.

  • Trev,

    I think you're correct, more of the nostalgia angle. A simpler time in life then now...Wasn't trying to start negative controversy, just making an observation. Loved a lot of her shots, The fact that she was untrained, and an odd sort, makes the images even better regardless of composition, technique, or IQ.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    Yes, and also these days, with the hundreds of millions of iPhones, cameras, iPads, all sort of recording/documenting devices out there, in 50/100 years those images would probably not be anywhere as significant as the original images back from an era when such devices were non-existent, therefore the value of these would be greater.

    The 'master', Ansel Adams, was one such epic photographer, but also his darkroom techniques, were what made his images immortal and timeless.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    edited May 2014
    You would have to consider the entire body of work here. The book that was published of her work, is but a fraction that John Maloof had curated at that point.


    So if you consider the sheer quality AND volume of her work, and see the images that are grainy and blurry in context to that, then they make sense in terms of what the images show of the time, and also just the photographer's view and style.

    For example, this image has grain and is blurry. But for me, it was immediately eye-catching.


    And I do believe that if anyone right now consistently created work of such mysterious beauty and social observation, they'd also receive acclaim (to some extent at least.)

    On a side-note: What riles me though with modern photography - the preoccupation with celebrity.

    I remember one issue of American Photo that featured a double-spread photo of Madonna chewing gum, as photographed by Herb Ritz. It was a snapshot. It was out of focus and had hard direct flash. Yet, because this was Madonna, and shot by Herb Ritz, it warranted a two-page spread in this magazine. As if there aren't a thousand more worthy images that were shut out in choosing that piece of crap.

    So yes, if it is out of focus and blurry and crap, but a photo of a celebrity that gets all the attention, then it annoys me. Severely.

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    On a related topic - I've seen discussions about John Maloof and him (potentially) making a profit off this venture. Heated debate. For me it is a simple matter - if it hadn't been for John Maloof finding those images, and then collecting as much of her legacy as possible, this would've been lost.

    I also think that if it hadn't been for someone as diligent as him, and as interested in history, this also would've meant we wouldn't have seen Vivian Maier's work. And I'm very okay with him making money off this eventually.

    Keep in mind the high cost of documenting, cataloging, archiving, etc.
  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited May 2014
    Interesting comment and you are not being negative. Not everyone is going like her work. She is getting resistance in the art world but I think that is more politics. When you said "I see the work of so many people on this site, that too me, blows hers away." She did something very few people did back then and like you said without training. Composition. You are either a natural or it becomes an acquired skill from training, collaboration, etc. Like said before - I like the part in the movie when the guy from the village said the only time people took pictures were at communions and weddings. She was different.

    You just need to go on 500px. Nothing but outstanding work and maybe better than some of hers on the front page alone. Going digital and the internet has opened the doors to an accelerated learning curve like no one has seen before. I have learned more in the last 9 years than in the previous 25.

    I am a huge Ansel Adams fan. I had a field camera and dabbled in the zone system. When I went to his show in Toronto I stood looking at a huge print of Moonrise Hernandez and one of the workers walked by. I asked if they would take a cheque and she told me it was priceless. I have been to photo galleries of 8 by 10 field camera B&W photographers still alive and seen work as good, if not better. I could easily afford to buy those prints.

    So yes there are thousands of photographers today that are better than her but there weren't thousands during her peak doing street photography and at the level she did. Personally I think her work is outstanding but I am probably being biased because I take into account her life story, the type of work and the time period she worked in. I could see an unknown persons work that is better, go wow and forget about it the next day. There will be more to see.

    Just to finish up my best friend owns a D800. About 6 months ago finished scanning what he estimates about 250,000 negatives and slides from about 40 years of film. Took him 2 over years. We went to see the movie a few weeks ago. Last weekend he came up to my cottage with me and pulled out is old Rolleiflex and Bronica. Talk about impact. I have not seen those in years. I kept calling him Vivian every time he picked one up to shoot with.

  • Zenon said: Just to finish up my best friend owns a D800. About 6 months ago finished scanning what he estimates about 250,000 negatives and slides from about 40 years of film. Took him 2 over years. We went to see the movie a few weeks ago. Last weekend he came up to my cottage with me and pulled out is old Rolleiflex and Bronica. Talk about impact. I have not seen those in years. I kept calling him Vivian every time he picked one up to shoot with.

    That speaks volumes Zenon... Perhaps there will be a resurgence in that type of photography. time will tell.

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited May 2014
    That's a perfect example of an eye-catching (as Neil said) shot above, and the very fact that image *is* slightly blurry is what makes it in my opinion. In fact if it had of been perfectly exposed, sharp, you would not get the same impact for what that image does in the story-telling.

    "Who is she? Where is she going? Where did she come from? Where was that taken?' etc.

    The fact some images are blurry and grainy also one has to remember, there was no such thing as high ISO back then, did not exist, and shutter speeds had to be brought down to get something to even show up on film.

    As the old saying goes and never so true as in cases of this: 'Photography is subjective'.

    Edit: The more I look at that image above the more I love it. (Thanks for posting it Neil)

    There is a feeling of desolation in that shot. Vulnerably alone, isolation feeling.
    Is she really going to that car or walk on by?

    In fact, I shall try to replicate that if possible in my next wedding if I have the right atmosphere.
  • ZenonZenon Member
    Good point Trev. Many people do not realize how good we have it. You go on sites that have constant sensor and manufacturer wars. Sure some are better than others but I don't recall 20 years ago when shooting film flipping my ISO from 100 to 12,800 and getting a useable image.
  • I just spent a good 30 minutes looking at her photos....loved them. The film BW's are captivating and so are the subjects. She was no stranger to using good light! I can see the appeal in her work but often can't figure out why some of today's street togs are popular...

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    edited September 2014
    Now there's a looming legal battle over her legacy, regarding copyright.

    The heir's not apparent

    I have a specific opinion about this: they are leeches.
    If it hadn't been for John Maloof, these treasures would've been lost.
  • He is an ambulance chaser. Period. This had nothing to do with what was right, but everything with publicity.
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