Grit & Grime: Exposing The Streets

28 of March 2014

Vivian Maier. Add that name to my list of People-I-Love, right in between Sylvia Plath and Banksy. A sort of real-life Hannah Montana, Ms. Maier spent her days working as a “Mary Poppins” type nanny in Chicago and New York, all the while accumulating a massive archive of her photographs she took on the streets with a modest Kodak Brownie with one shutter speed and no focus control during her days off, unbeknownst to her employers. Remembered as a very private, yet outspoken, person, Maier established to each of her employers throughout the years that the room she would occupy during her nanny servicing was to be off-limits. It was in these rooms that Vivian developed and stored her collection of over 100,000 photographs of predominantly people and cityscapes in France, New York, Chicago, Thailand, and many other places she traveled.

Ms. Maier did not show her work to anyone, never expected anything of it, and during her lifetime, didn’t receive any notoriety for it. From an artists’ perspective, Vivian photographed because she had to; because she couldn’t help but see the world through the lenses of her Brownie, assorted Rolleiflex cameras, and various SLR cameras.

There is a certain gut-wrenching knowledge I experience when I pass by a moment that was begging to be captured by my hands, and I suppose that is part of what forces all of us artists to do what we do. Our art isn’t something we simply enjoy, like watching soccer or reading or anything of that sort; no, it is an impulse, the very essence of our being.  Without photography, how could Vivian have gone through each doldrum year? Void of passion and secret aspirations to capture her minds’ eye, I believe Vivian would have died, and she surely would not have left the world with handfuls of the candid glory of the streets. When Ms. Maier did pass obscurely from the world she would eventually expose in its raw form, she had lived a total of 83 years, through poverty, rigorous yet rewarding work, and an inner destitute that would permeate her photographs with inklings of the life un-lived behind the camera.

Vivian, like so many of the inspirations on my list of People-I-Love, I didn’t get the chance to meet you, but if we meet somewhere beyond the cosmos one day, it would fulfill my every wish to spend one day on the streets with you, capturing.

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