Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection
MK Gallery hosts the first British show of Vivian Maier, the American nanny who secretly took hundreds of thousands of photographs that first came to light in 2007.
The story of Vivian Maier (1926-2009) is wonderfully peculiar. For four decades she worked as a nanny in New York and Chicago, during which time she secretly took hundreds of thousands of photographs. She was fiercely dedicated and technically skilled, yet she shared her images with virtually no one. “She was an ‘invisible’ woman,” says Anne Morin, the curator of the first UK exhibition of Maier’s work, at MK Gallery in Milton Keynes. “She never had her own life, living in the house of her employers, working for them. The only territory where she could be free with her own identity was photography. This was her way to exist.”
It was perhaps Maier’s anonymity that enabled her to capture so freely the everyday expressions and interactions of people of different social standings. Produced by the cultural management company diChroma Photography, which has organised several shows of her work, the exhibition will bring together more than 130 black-and-white and colour photographs, as well as film and audio.
It was not until 2007, when Maier fell behind on the payments for a storage locker, that some of her work became public. At auction, the estate agent and amateur historian John Maloof acquired a box of negatives, reams of undeveloped film and other collectables. Captivated by the portraits of daily urban life, he tracked down the rest of the boxes and began his quest to bring Maier’s work to light. In 2009 he found a brief obituary online and, after putting together a photography blog and his own exhibition (museums were not interested at this point), he made a documentary, Finding Vivian Maier. After the film’s release, Maier became a landmark figure in 20th-century American photography (kicking off a lengthy legal battle over control of her legacy).
Vivian Maier’s undated Self-portrait exemplifies her double life as a nanny and a passionate photographer who captured the world around her in New York and Chicago
© Estate of Vivian Maier. Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery