Vivian Maier

Review by Melanie Chapman •

Why would someone carry a 258-page hardcover photobook with them across an ocean and throughout four countries when much of the photographer’s work is accessible on-line? When the book is the new retrospective Vivian Maier published by Thames and Hudson, the only appropriate response is “Why Not?!” – As the “someone” who did bring the book on a recent trip across Northern Europe, this reviewer has been a fan of Maier’s photography since it was first discovered posthumously by John Maloof at an auction in Chicago. Having this new book on hand served as a reminder to always be actively looking and shooting no matter where (or who) you are.

Most fans of documentary and fine art photography are familiar with Ms. Maier’s work as well as the fascinating and somewhat tragic story of her life; that she was a prolific photographer who made her living as a Nanny and rarely developed let alone showed any of the thousands of images she made during her lifetime. Though she remained unknown and would have likely been unwelcome in the white male dominated Art World of her time, Vivian Maier was a shooter in the best sense of the term, seemingly always engaged in the act of looking and the art of seeing. 

For those who may already own publications of Vivian Maier’s photography, what makes this new publication worthy of collecting is the wide array of images not only from Maier’s black and white street portraits shot with her Rolleiflex in the 1950s and 60s (still considered by this fan to be her strongest work), but also the addition of images from later-day 35mm color images and cinematic efforts. This well-designed retrospective organizes the selection of Maier’s work into categories: Self-portraits, Street work, Portraits, Gestures, Cinematic, Color, Childhood, and Forms. One can imagine that Maier herself would have maintained a set of categories in her own mind and continuously found opportunities in her daily life to add to those stored collections. 

Additionally, it is the inclusion of details about Maier’s personal life -particularly the difficult circumstances of her upbringing in Europe and abandonment of the family by her biological father- that greatly enhances the value of this book. That seminal event resulted in tremendous emotional and psychological challenges for Vivian’s mother and brother, and the inclusion of this information helps any admirer of her photography better understand why Maier “chose” to live (and eventually die) in obscurity, despite her prodigious talents

The tactile experience of this hardbound retrospective, in which images are printed with the high quality one deservedly expects from a Thames and Hudson publication, yet the densely worded and considered essays are printed on paper which feels more like newsprint that took a moment to be appreciated. As one considers Maier’s latter years were filled with what became an overwhelming trove of newspapers and magazines, perhaps this design decision is a nod to that aspect of Maier’s story. ‘Tis a pity that clips of Maier’s cinematic work could not be included, but her growing global community of collectors and admirers are at least now aware that such films exist, courtesy of this book. 

Long live Vivian Maier, may she always rest in peace.

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Melanie Chapman is a Contributing Editor and a Southern California photographer

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General Editor: Anne Morin, Editorial Director and Curator of diChroma Photography in Madrid, Spain

Photographs by Vivian Maier, born in New York City (1926) and deceased, Chicago, IL (2009)

Foreword by Anne Morin, with essays by Anne Morin, Christa Blumlinger and Ann Marks

Published by Thames and Hudson, copyright 2022

Hardcover, 256 pages, ISBN 9780500025703

Book Design: Wijntje van Rooijen and Pierre Peronnet

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are copyright of the authors and publishers.

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