The Blog

| July 23, 2015

Number 125

Take the Picture

Another opening, another show... or not.

I saw a documentary about a woman named Vivian Maier. She made her living as a nanny for something like forty years, living quietly and frugally and very, very privately… as privately as you can, when living under someone else’s roof. In her spare time, and by spare time I mean any and all, she was a photographer. She even combined the two, often by taking her client’s children out on photo expeditions and using them as models or props.

The documentary was interesting and presented her as a quirky, solitary, mysterious individual and a remarkable, after-death artistic find. Boxes filled with prints and lots of undeveloped film were auctioned off from a storage facility, and – long story short – when they were presented to the world via Flickr of all places, interest grew, Vivian went viral, and a new art star was “discovered.”

She’s been compared favorably to pretty much every recognized photographer of the twentieth century, to the point that you start to wonder, what’s the point? There have been shows and books and the documentary… and many articles.

Often, people have said or implied, in those books and documentary and many articles, how sad it was that she was never discovered in her lifetime. How sad that she never had a show or the appreciation or exposure that she so clearly deserved. Poor Vivian.

I’m thinking, maybe not so much and how presumptuous to assume it. A show is not the goal for most of the creative people I know. It’s the work. Maybe Vivian took the photos because she loved taking photos. Maybe she loved the process and the moment and the intimacy. Maybe she was recording images just for herself. And maybe that was enough. She didn’t develop a lot of the film. That says a lot. Maybe they were just the tires that rolled her journey forward. The event already happened – transported from the outside, through her lens, past her eye and into her brain. Observed and recorded.

I like to think of it this way, and yes, I readily admit I’m being presumptuous, but maybe, just maybe, I know a few people like Vivian Maier. I think she was someone who didn’t fit in, didn’t know how and didn’t understand the value or need. I think she was an outsider who was always seeing, always observing, and was fascinated by the interplay of light and shadow and people and life – always from the outside looking in. I think her camera was her friend and companion. And I think, as time went on, she became more and more isolated and her art, her unique vision, her ongoing private exhibition for one was her only link to the rest of the world. I don’t know if that’s sad as much as it’s different, and different is hard for a lot of other people.

Vivian Maier took photographs – carefully composed, beautiful photographs. And she kept them for herself.

That’s a very hard thought to comprehend in the era of the Selfie.

Art is not in the …eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.
– Seth Godin

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July 31, 2015 | 3:35 am

Margie, I never met s spot light I didn't like, but now that I'm over 32, I've come to understand the love of the work even more deeply.

Margie Cherry

July 24, 2015 | 5:06 pm

Hmmm...such a hard concept to grasp when one is an extroverted show-off like , ahem, myself! It broadened my understanding of introverted creators. Thanks, Bill!