There’s a lot of buzz these days in the photo world about the discovery of work by street photographer Vivan Maier (1926 – 2008). Now Parisians can see some of her rare color photos with an exhibition at Les Douches Gallery (to March 30, 2019). The photos 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. It took me two years… and here they are.”
Maier who photographed tirelessly the streets of New York and 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.
A French connection to this story is that Maier’s mother was French. She was born in the States, but moved back to France with her mother where she lived for several years before returning to New York City in 1951. In the mid 50’s she left the East Coast for Chicago, where she spent most of the rest of her life working as a nanny. In her off duty hours she roamed Chicago streets with her Rolleiflex camera.
How her photos were rescued from obscurity is almost as amazing as the pictures themselves. The story —now 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 has 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 prints were made for the Les Douches Gallery exhibition).
As photos find their way to museum and gallery walls a new chapter on American street photography is being written. These tantalizing fragments lead us to contemplate a photographer’s life and ponder why we take pictures.
“Vivian Maier, The Color Work” until March 30, 2019 at Les Douches la Galerie, 5, rue Legouvé, Paris 75010