Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Vivian Maier on Facebook? Nahhh

I enjoy Facebook for its social aspect - getting in touch with friends and family, viewing my peers' latest photos, and so on. The last thing I expected to find on Facebook, was a link to an intriguing article (coincidentally, on photography). After reading this article, I was convinced I needed to purchase an 'old school' camera along with some black and white film to go forth and 'capture' art in the moment. Fortunately, reality set in when I remembered I had no talent for photography (unless photographs of headless relatives clustered to the right of the frame is now considered 'art').

Lezah Williamson, a great writer who has contributed many articles to Swanktrendz, had enclosed this link in one of her Facebook posts. As always, I trust Lezah's reading suggestions without question, so I surfed to a site created by a writer named Topaz. (By now, I'm sure many of you are shaking your head with anticlimactic disappointment moaning,"Yeah, yeah, we've known about Simplytopaz for ages, sheesh! We thought you were introducing us to something new."


Well, simplytopaz is a 'new' site for me and I would especially like to recommend the article on Chicago's, Vivian Maier. Maier, as you will soon discover, was a nanny who had a passion for photography during her spare-time. Furthermore, she was not your run-of-the-mill hobbyist photographer; her eye for street subjects was exceptional. Her work is impressive enough that curators are quickly booking various photographs for upcoming exhibitions. As well, filmmakers are vying for the privilege of creating a documentary on Vivian Maier's life and art.


I understand their interest in Maier's work as I would happily stand in line (unheard of for me) for the opportunity to view her photography. I would gladly pay those outlandish cinema fees to watch a documentary on her life.


However, I feel conflicted about our voyeurism of Maier's work, as there doesn't seem to be a clear consensus as to what Ms. Maier wanted done with her photographs. Her talent was discovered only after her death, and her 'habit of taking photographs' is shared with us by people who were her former employers. They vaguely recall her photography interest, her habit of toting a camera about on her days off, yet they are clear about Vivian's insistence on privacy (with regards to her living quarters). I'm sure I'm not the only one to question, where are members of her family? Where are her friends?

Was Vivian Maier modest about the quality of her photographs, believing them to be unimpressive, and therefore not worthy enough to share with others? Or did she view her photographs as her personal and private treasure; meant to be boxed and hidden away until finally age, and storage costs, caught up to her forcing her to relinquish the locker's contents (some boxes contained yet developed film) to the storage facility, along with the task of discarding aforesaid (and probably considered worthless) boxes.

Then again, perhaps Vivian envisioned this exact scenario? An amateur photographer willing to purchase thousands upon thousands of her photographs because the quality of her 'street pictures' caught his eye. Once he found this treasure trove of photographs, he was willing to (smartly) gamble that other photography buffs would quickly recognize Maier's inherent talent, and thus our amateur photographer would be soon propelled to the world stage, lauded as the one who brought us Vivian Maier's "Street Photography".


Unless Vivian Maier had a will, or a confidante (other than an ex-employer) we'll never know what outcome she expected for her photography. I suspect she exhibited a personality disorder* similar to an obsessive-compulsive/ hoarding disorder; requiring her photographs be boxed away in towers, so as to keep secret how all-consuming her 'hobby' actually was. (*I dislike the word 'disorder' but at present, lack a better replacement.)

Whatever Maier's thoughts, reasons, hopes, or dreams have died with her. Like it or not, her name will be renowned throughout the art world, and would-be photographers will look to her as their inspiration. But, it's not like she or relatives will be around to love or hate it. We will each have to decide our actions towards her work, within our own consciences.

Imagine, all this 'creative genius' exposure because of delinquent storage fees. I suppose the mystery surrounding Maier's life and photography brings to mind Ansel Adams' quote: "When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence." Vivian's words were unclear and finally silenced.


I wonder what she'd have to say, now?

Also see Lens scratch