Chicago realtor John Maloof, in 2007, happened to purchase a large archive of black and white photographs and negatives at a “garage sale” for $400. Such purchases at auctions of unwanted items are made “blindly,” without prior assessment of the “old stuff” that most lots represent. With no illusions about what he had acquired, John, after developing some of the photos and scanning others, shared a small part of the archive on the Internet. In the first few months after publication, he received over 200 exhibition offers and one proposal to create a documentary about the photographer.
It was then revealed that the author of the photographs was an elderly lady named Vivian Maier, who spent her life in a retirement home. Throughout her conscious life, Vivian worked as a nanny, often taking photos while walking with her charges on the streets of Chicago. She regarded photography solely as a hobby, showing her work only to close friends, and even then, not always. Nevertheless, her passion was intense, and every year, the creative archive of the talented nanny grew by 200 rolls of film, almost like a professional.
She captured images better than many photography masters. Critics would label the Chicago nanny as a “genius of street photography,” and her amateur works would become some of the best documentary evidence of American urban life in the mid-20th century. Over the years of her passion, Vivian Maier accumulated over 100,000 photographs and negatives. When there was no more space to store them, the photographer rented a storage unit. When she could no longer afford the rent, all this “wealth” fell into the hands of a random buyer. It is unknown whether he would have allocated a portion of his earnings to the lonely elderly lady because she passed away in the same year when her fame became global.
Vivian Dorothy Maier was born on February 1, 1926, in New York.