Why Vivian Maier is so iconic

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Vivian Maier was a world-class street photographer. While she took hundreds of photos over many years, she only shared a handful with the public. After her death in 2009, her story went viral and eventually came to the attention of the director Malia Scotch Marmo and the Discovery Channel. What started as an ordinary documentary about an ordinary woman’s life became an Emmy award-winning series, Life Through Her Lens. I’m going to take you on a tour of Vivian Maier’s world.

Some backstory

Vivian Maier is famous for her vast collection of street photographs taken throughout her life. Her work, which had been discovered by chance by a Chicago real estate agent who bought some of Vivian’s belongings at an auction, was made public after his death and has since become one of the most sought-after collections ever discovered by an unknown artist.

You might not have heard of Vivian Maier, but you’ve probably seen her photos. She was a nanny and she took thousands of pictures during her time as a nanny, but she never shared those photos with anyone. In fact, when she died in 2009 at the age of 83 (she’d been living in France), no one knew she had taken so many photographs or even that she’d existed at all.

She left behind 100 boxes full of negatives, prints and undeveloped film when she passed away. They contained over 100,000 negatives!

These boxes were found in an auction house storage locker after being abandoned there for years by an anonymous person who never paid his bill but did leave behind an address.

An art dealer bought the contents and soon realised their value when he started looking through them.

Susanne Nilsson from Trelleborg, Sweden, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

A valuable perspective

Take a look at her photos and you’ll see that she’s drawn to the same themes time and again: people on the streets, kids playing in parks, children posing with their pets. There are also plenty of portraits of her clients’ families and friends.

The way Vivian took her photos is unique and interesting. One thing that sets Maier apart from many photographers is how she uses light. She shoots with natural light wherever possible, which means that even when she’s shooting indoors or at night you feel like you’re seeing everything through someone else’s eyes. This approach makes her work feel more candid than it really is—it gives us an intimate view into something we might not otherwise have access to without being there ourselves (which makes sense because most of these events happened decades ago).

The reason why these images are so iconic is because Maier was interested in documenting the everyday lives of people living in urban areas. Her work from Chicago shows how there were many different types of communities living near each other—from higher-income folks to lower-income families, who lived side by side despite their differences–and she wanted to capture those moments where it seemed like everyone got along regardless of their differences or class status.