Harold Washington Library; “Vivian Maier: Out Of The Shadows”
Vivian Maiers career as a photographer is one shrouded in mystery. Having never established herself before her death, her name and reputation occur posthumously, a result of the discoveries of John Maloof and Ron Slattery.
John Maloof came across the work of Vivian Maier through an auction house. An acquisition he made in 2007, these photos were housed in a storage locker that Vivian Maier failed to make payments on. This locker contained roughly 30,000 prints and negatives, and would come to serve as important documents of Chicago history.
A man named Jeffrey Goldstein would come to acquire a sizable portion of the Vivian Maier collection, establishing “Vivian Maier Prints inc” in the process. He is said to have up to 17,000 of the original photographs.
Maier was born in New York in 1926, although she spent much of her childhood in France. In 1951, she moved back to New York from France. It was not until 1956 that she then migrated to Chicago’s North Shore area. From here, she would spend the next forty years working as a nanny. The families she worked for report that her off days were often spent walking through the streets of Chicago photographing with her Rolleiflex camera.
This exhibit is split into various subcategories. They each bring focus to the many areas of Chicago that Vivian Maier sought to capture through her elusive career as a photographer. About half the room is comprised of photographs depicting inner-city life while the rest are of the North Shore area and other suburbs.
There are a number of island display cases which exhibit random ephemera such as rolls of film and a replica of the Rolleiflex which she used. Since all the photographs are all professional modern re-prints of her negatives, the objects give a deeper sense of the historic context her work takes place in.
In order to better engage viewers, there is a “selfie station” set up to one side of the gallery near the entrance. This pays homage to Vivian Maiers famous self portraits in which she used a mirror to capture herself. Here, a polaroid camera is set on a center island in front of a mirror for visitors to take “selfies” and upload them to the shows live Flickr feed, which is also displayed as part of the exhibition via flat screen.
The space is a basic whitewall, hardwood floor room. The photographs are all square format, and framed in black frames with white mats. The lights in the space gave the gallery an extremely yellow feel, however, which seemed to interfere with the clean brights and darks in the black-and-white photographs. Overall, though, I feel that the materials exhibited gave a basic, concise view of an otherwise enigmatic photographer.
written by Christopher Wong on April 18, 2014