Women's Activism NYC

Vivian Maier

1926 - 2009

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Edited

vivian Maier was an American street photographer born in New York City. Although born in the U.S., it was in France that Maier spent most of her youth. Maier returned to the U.S. in 1951 where she took up work as a nanny and care-giver for the rest of her life. In her leisure however, Maier had begun to venture into the art of photography. Consistently taking photos over the course of five decades, she would ultimately leave over 100,000 negatives, most of them shot in Chicago and New York City. Vivian would further indulge in her passionate devotion to documenting the world around her through homemade films, recordings and collections, assembling one of the most fascinating windows into American life in the second half of the twentieth century. Maier was born to a French mother and Austrian father in the Bronx borough of New York City. The census records although useful, give us an incomplete picture. We find Vivian at the age of four living in NYC with only her mother along with Jeanne Bertrand, an award winning portrait photographer, her father was already out of the picture. Later records show Vivian returning to the U.S. from France in 1939 with her mother, Marie Maier. Again in 1951 we have records of her subsequent return home from France, this time however, without her mother. Sometime in 1949, while still in France, Vivian began toying with her first photos. Her camera was a modest Kodak Brownie box camera, an amateur camera with only one shutter speed, no focus control, and no aperture dial. The viewer screen is tiny, and for the controlled landscape or portrait artist, it would arguably impose a wedge in between Vivian and her intentions due to its inaccuracy. Her intentions were at the mercy of this feeble machine. In 1951, Maier returns to NY on the steamship ‘De-Grass’, and she nestles in with a family in Southampton as a nanny. In 1952, Vivian purchases a Rolleiflex camera to fulfill her fixation. She stays with this family for most of her stay in New York until 1956, when she makes her final move to the North Shore suburbs of Chicago. Another family would employ Vivian as a nanny for their three boys and would become her closest family for the remainder of her life. In 1956, when Maier moved to Chicago, she enjoyed the luxury of a darkroom as well as a private bathroom. This allowed her to process her prints and develop her own rolls of B&W film. As the children entered adulthood, the end of Maier’s employment from that first Chicago family in the early seventies forced her to abandon developing her own film. As she would move from family to family, her rolls of undeveloped, unprinted work began to collect.

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