One of the best photo exhibitions in Paris this month features the work of two photograpphers Berenice Abbott and Vivian Maier (Une Fantastique Passion) at Les Douches La Galerie. This is a tale of two cities and two fantastic female photographers. For Abbott her passion was photographing the city of New York. For Vivian Maier it was the streets and people of Chicago (until November 26, 2016).
Documentary photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) is best known for her black and white photographs of New York City architecture, a project called “Changing New York” (1935-39), Along with her pictures of New York, Abbott is also famous for her role in promoting the work of the legendary photographer Eugene Atget, who documented the streets and architecture of Paris between 1897 and 1927. Abbott came to Paris in 1921 where she learned her craft as Man Ray’s darkroom assistant before opening her own studio specializing in portraits.
During the last couple of years there has been a lot of buzz about the discovery of work by Chicago street photographer Vivan Maier (1926 – 2008). The photos on view at the Les Douches Gallery are a selection of prints from the John Maloof Collection in association with the Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.
Francoise Morin, who directs this welcoming gallery specializing in documentary photography in Paris’ 10th arrondissement was taken by the Maier story and when she saw some of the pictures she says “I knew I had to show these photos in Paris. Maier who photographed tirelessly the streets of Chicago during the 50’s and 60’s was unknown during her life and for the photo community a complete outsider. One of the things that makes her work so special is that they were taken for personal rather than commercial reasons. Even Atjet did much of his legendary work on assignments. Maier made her pictures to please only herself… no book editors, no gallery, no photo critics. “She never showed her photographs to anyone” says Morin. Although she was self taught Maier was no naif. Many of her photos —in the humanist tradition— show a sophisticated sense of composition making them comparable to such photographers as Lisette Model and Helen Levitt.
How her photos were rescued from obscurity is almost as amazing as the pictures themselves. The story — the subject of a documentary film “Finding Vivian Maier” —is how John Maloof, an amateur historian, uncovered thousands of negatives at a storage locker auction. This chance purchase both changed photo history and the life of Maloof, who now dedicates himself to Maier’s legacy. His collection consists of over 100,000 negatives from which several new prints were made for this exhibition at Les Douches Gallery.
Bernice Abbott & Vivian Maier, Une Fantastique Passion, until Nov 26,2016 at Les Douches la Galerie, 5, rue Legouvé, Paris 75010
Photo caption: ©Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Les Douches la Galerie, Paris & Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York