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Vivian Maier _ {A Hidden Genius: Finding Vivian Maier} | ARTLECTURE

Vivian Maier _ {A Hidden Genius: Finding Vivian Maier}

-Meet the photographer’s self-portraits @ Today Art Museum, Beijing-

/News, Issue & Events/
by Dawoon Choi
Vivian Maier _ {A Hidden Genius: Finding Vivian Maier}
-Meet the photographer’s self-portraits @ Today Art Museum, Beijing-
VIEW 116

HIGHLIGHT


Vivian Maier did take pictures on purpose. She knew what she was doing. She carefully observed scenes through a viewfinder and cut out the frames. The moments Maier captured spread from New York and Chicago to a small Alps village and exotic scenes in Asia. The hundred thousands of negative frames are “her life”, and she was “experiencing life through photography”.6) This might be a reason that many of us resonate with the images of a once unknown photographer. We see the world and the life in it through the photos.


<Exhibition poster. Courtesy Today Art Museum>





 

A nanny in New York, a photographer self-secluded, or a genius unknown. Among these words, what could describe exactly Vivian Maier? Whatever it is, no one word could identify Maier. Because Vivian Maier, who became one of the legends in contemporary photography, was a nanny, a photographer, and a genius. 


The story of Vivian Maier took off from a pile of thins sold at one auction store in Chicago. John Maloof acquired a bunch of undeveloped films and posted a few developed images on the Flickr community. Since then the photos of the unknown went viral fast, and they finally landed on several exhibitions around the world. The interests in her works have been ongoing since its first introduction to the world in 2009 though it’s been more than 10 years now. During the first half of 2021, there are four exhibitions of Maier held concurrently in Paris, Beijing, Buenos Aires, and Lisbon. In Amazon, US, you can find a pre-order for a new book about her mystery, which is planned to be published coming November.1) Thus it is certain that the research for her mystery is currently underway.

 




<Installation view. Courtesy Today Art Museum>





 

I saw her images first at Sungkong Art Museum (SAM), Seoul in 2015. Then this time, I met her again at the exhibition held in Today Art Museum (TAM), Beijing), <A Hidden Genius: Finding Vivian Maier>. While the show at SAM focused on her street snaps, TAM displayed the selection especially based on her self-portraits. Total 83 images in B&W and color, 9 clips of 8mm video, and the screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary <Finding Vivian Maier> (FVM) is included in the show.  

 




<Installation view. Courtesy Today Art Museum>


<Screening of the documentary movie. Courtesy Today Art Museum>





 

The works are displayed throughout two-stories exhibition halls with different sectors based on B&W / color, dates, and locations. Some are widely known images like the one on the poster, while others are shown not that much before. The film FVM is screened three times a day, and 8 mm videos Maier shot are played together. I feel the exhibition provides quite an impression with high-quality images overall except the mock-ups such as a hat shop or a living room from her photos. 


One of the reasons that the story of Maier became the legend is a mystery surrounding her life and images. She died before the world knew about herself.  So we didn’t have a chance to hear what she thought and why she took so many photos. Regardless of countless research and investigation about her works and life, there should be a lack of understanding about true Vivian Maier. This mystery was overlaid on B&W negatives from the seized storage piles, then Vivian Maier, a nanny and a genius photographer, emerged. 


 




<Chicago. ©John Maloof Collection, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY, and diChroma Photography>



<Chicago, 1974. ©John Maloof Collection, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY, and diChroma Photography>

 




In this regard, Maier’s self-portraits may be an opportunity to understand her identity. Photographers’ selfie implies that “I was standing there”2) and it is a capture of his/her inscape. Unlike self-portraits of paintings, photographers do not take a front or a profile only. It can be a reflection on a mirror or a long-narrow shadow made by morning sunlight, or a blurry shape on a curved surface. There is him-/her-self inside the frames. An unclear mirror image may represent a swayful soul. And a long dark shadow may be a reflection of a lonely soul like that. In the same way, Maier’s various self-portraits can give us hints about herself.


Some people compare Maier with Eugène Atget because both of them became famous posthumously. Atget is a photographer who took the streets of Paris in the 19th century. His purpose was to provide assists for painters’ sketches or to deliver documents for the city authorities. But, due to the opinions of a few public figures such as photographer Berenice Abbott and philosopher Walter Benjamin, Atget became the pioneer of modern photography. What they claimed was the ‘surrealistic’ character on his photos.3) There is an analogy between the story of Maier and of Atget. By prestigious opinions of NY’s gallerists and some photography masters, the images taken by a nanny transformed to the arts penetrating the scenes of America during the mid-20th century. I do not mean that the works of Maier or Atget are not the arts. Many people are moved by their images. And of course, I am one of them. I just want to tell you that there would be other influential factors we do not know. 

 




<New York, 1953. ©John Maloof Collection, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY, and diChroma Photography>


<New York, 1954. ©John Maloof Collection, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY, and diChroma Photography>

 




The book by Pamela Banos4) studied the life of Vivian Maier as if  executing “forensic research”. Her study shows that the birth of the legend involved conscious will among several stakeholders. The author chased the mystery of Maier through negatives and prints held by key persons4). She read the negatives frame by frame. She even tracked deleted archives from the internet. Then she juxtaposed the life of Maier with the well-known stories in the history of photography. Through the book, we can see the times that Maier lived and imagine what the photographer did during every step of her life.


Vivian Maier did take pictures on purpose. She knew what she was doing. She carefully observed scenes through a viewfinder and cut out the frames. The moments Maier captured spread from New York and Chicago to a small Alps village and exotic scenes in Asia. The hundred thousands of negative frames are “her life”, and she was “experiencing life through photography”.6) This might be a reason that many of us resonate with the images of a once unknown photographer. We see the world and the life in it through the photos.


 




<Chicago, 1960s. ©John Maloof Collection, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY, and diChroma Photography>




all images/words ⓒ the artist(s) and organization(s)

☆Donation: https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/artlecture

Footnotes :
1) Ann Marks, “Vivian Maier Developed : The Untold Story of the Photographer Nanny”, Atria Books, To be published in 2011 Nov.
2) (영상) 진동선, “비비안 마이어의 삶과 사진”, 2015년 성곡미술관 강의
3) ‘사진이라 쓰고 예술이라 읽는 문맹들’, 장정민 지음, “사진이란 이름의 욕망 기계”, IANN, 2017, p. 42 - 49
4) Pamela Banos, “Vivian Maier : A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife”, The University of Chicago Press, 2017
5) John Maloof, Jeffrey Goldstein, Ron Staley and others like Allan Sekula and some owners that bought Maier’s prints in 2008 through Ebay
6) (Documentary) Jill Nichols, “Vivian Maier : Who took nanny’s pictures”, BBC Imagine, 2013

Other reference :
Curator’s letter (Anne Morin), Today Art Museum, 2021
성곡미술관 전시 리플릿, 2015
존 말루프, 마빈 하이퍼만 지음, 박여진 옮김, “비비안 마이어 : 나는 카메라다”, 윌북, 2015
(Documentary) John Maloof & Charlie Siskel, “Finding Vivian Maier”, 2013
(Webpage) John Maloof Collection - http://www.vivianmaier.com

Exhibition Schedule :
2021. 03. 21 ~ 06. 30 / Tue ~ Sun 10:00 ~ 18:00
Today Art Museum (天日美术馆), Building 4, Pingod Community, No. 32 Baiziwan Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing
http://www.todayartmuseum.com/enexhdetails.aspx?type=currentexh&id=807