A wonderful parade shot from Ms. Vivian Maier. Chicago.
©Toby Old 2011
“Photography is a very nice hobby.” - Sid Kaplan
It was almost love at first sight. A few years ago, I was sent links to web sites about the discovery of Vivian Maier’s photographs and negatives at a storage bin auction in Chicago. Some of the photographs posted then seemed to me first rate, combining visual sophistication, a photographic eye, and a personal vision of the social, quotidian world.
By Rob Lim & Lauren Lim from Photography Concentrate
Both vintage and contemporary silver gelatin prints will continue to be available through Russell Bowman Art Advisory in Chicago. For more information, please contact Natalie Waechter at 312-751-9500 or via email at email@example.com
RUSSELL BOWMAN ART ADVISORY
311 West Superior Street, #115
Chicago, Illinois 60654-6739
312.751.9500 • firstname.lastname@example.org
MASS MoCa, North Adams, Massachusetts
VIVIAN MAIER PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBIT
Vivian Maier’s photographic work, which intimately documents mid-century life namely in Chicago and other American cities, first came to light in 2007 when boxes of her work, including hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film, were discovered in an abandoned storage locker. In recent months, Maier’s incredible story continues to unfold and her impressive body of work thus far has been heralded by both critics and international publications alike. Vivian Maier was born in New York City, but spent much of her youth in France. Returning to New York in 1951 after months of international travel, she began to comb the American streets, documenting the city’s inhabitants and offering an intimate glimpse into urban lives and relationships (among other subject matter). Maier moved to Chicago in 1956 where she worked as a longtime nanny for families in Chicago’s North Shore. Often referred to as an “eccentric Mary Poppins,” Maier continued to take photographs well into the 1990s, but almost never allowed her work to be viewed. Along with newspaper clippings and other historical artifacts, Maier stashed hundreds of undeveloped rolls of film and photographs in a storage locker, where they were later deemed abandoned and auctioned off. Maier died in 2009 in a nursing home at the age of 83. This Vivian Maier exhibit offers a glimpse into her world via 40 posthumous archival prints selected and curated by Patrick Sansone of Wilco from the Jeffrey Goldstein collection known as Vivian Maier Prints Inc.
I picked up the phone and my sister in Chicago announced excitedly, “Vivian’s going to be famous!”…this seemed a bit incongruous as it seemed like only months earlier, my sister called and sadly intoned “Vivian died”. In either instance, there was no question as to who Vivian was. Growing up in the leafy confines of Highland Park in the early sixties, our middle brother, Robbie was best friends with Lane Gensburg, the middle brother of the clan around the corner that employed Vivian Maier as a nanny for nearly two decades.
Our mother, Carole, who painted, seldom wore shoes in the summer and belonged to a book group which read Salinger, Mailer and Vonnegut…and whose leader, Hershel Gordon Lewis, would invent the splatter film. She and Vivian got along well and eventually, Vivian began dropping by to visit, often shrugging off the fact that we might be in the middle of a meal or memorably, when Vivian strode into my parents’ bedroom at 7:30 on a Sunday morning and began holding forth on New Wave cinema, while my father lay uncomfortably beneath the sheets in his boxers. She was different, she was opinionated, she was memorable. It’s easier to imagine Vivian holding court in a Parisian cafe or fighting alongside the French Resistance than cutting the crusts off sandwiches and lacing ice skates.
But what always defined Vivian was the fact that she was a genuine “shutterbug”.
In a world swooning over Polaroids and Instamatics, Vivian, with her light meters, low ASA Pan X film and viewfinder that turned her subjects upside-down, was obviously an artiste, always shooting, chronicling life, but somehow maintaing her distance from it. A half century later, I can still see her tooling around Sheridan Road on her motorized bicycle, trench coat flapping in the breeze, never without her beret or her trademark baby RolleiFlex dangling around her neck. But, even though the Gensburgs built her a darkroom, Vivian was always reluctant to share her work with anyone. That made the handful of photos that she did print of our family so special.
We were a family of four boys when our baby sister Jennifer arrived, and somehow, Vivian distilled our affection and endless fascination with our new addition…as we’ve now seen her capture so many moments of isolation, despair, pride and hope.
I came home from college one holiday in the mid-seventies to hear that the Gensburgs had finally let Vivian go. The boys had grown up… but they never forgot Vivian and took her in and supported her in her last years.
Looking at her stunning work today, it’s easy to visualize Vivian wandering the city on her days off, searching for faces, shadows and reflections that moved her… and hard to believe how close Vivian’s life’s work came to being lost — instead of lovingly rescued, exhibited and acclaimed. My mother thinks Vivian would’ve hated all the fuss surrounding her today… all I know is that her story is one of the greatest curtain calls of all time.
Recently, I found out that years ago, my mother and my sister (already married to a photographer), were standing in front of the Water Tower, when they spotted Vivian hanging out of a CTA bus taking a picture. They met each others eyes and laughed. The bus pulled away as Vivian waved madly. Listening to their story, it felt like one of Vivian’s photos.
View more of Vivian Maier’s structural images…
More self portraits here
My thoughts as far as “art and money” are concerned is that the “money” part of the equation serves as the lubricant that keeps the “art” part moving forward. To keep progress moving forward, artists, art programs and collections need money, as do galleries and museums. Patrons and collectors are the ones that supply the “grease” or “money” to the machinery, helping to facilitate art production and in helping to bring art to the public attention. For the artists and art facilitators, money buys us resources to make art and present it in the best way possible.
There’s a real “nuts and bolts” part of the endeavor of bringing Vivian Maier’s work to the public’s attention. Presently, both John Maloof (whom I have daily contact with) and I are extremely vested in the project. Bear in mind that this is not a cry of injustice; we both embrace our decisions and feel fortunate to be involved in what we’re doing. In fact, we have both had kind financial offers from others but have declined.
What are some of the expenses, you rightfully may ask? I can’t speak directly for John although I know many of our costs are a duplicate of one another’s. A brief list includes, incorporating a company, insurance, legal counsel, accountant, fire-proof safes and cabinets, dehumidifiers, sump pump systems, alarms and security, employee(s), electronic equipment, archival and storage materials, and the cost of Vivian Maier’s work.
The last expense listed, the cost Vivian Maier’s work, has been the largest expense of which I have made four purchases with each purchase being progressively higher in cost than the previous. Interesting to note is that John and I made a recent purchase, of which I have to limit the details, of some thousands of Vivian Maier images that we have been aware of for awhile. This transaction was not for the feign of heart as it was consummated far away from Chicago in a randomly selected hotel conference room, with a total of seven people involved including two off-duty law enforcement agents (FOID’s current) to make sure all went “as agreed to.” John and I both feel that this was the last of any outstanding part of Vivian Maier’s collection and are pleased to bring it (back) into the fold. Note too, that John and I have entertained the thoughts of conjoining our collections and the possibility of establishing a “brick and mortar” foundation. Due to the time, cost, and complexities of our initial talks we have both agreed at this juncture to revisit these possible plans at a later time.
Besides spending funds to roll a project like this along, both John and I have willingly placed ourselves in a position of having shut down our usual business enterprises. It helps to be self-employed to do a project like this because it’s certainly not something that can be done in one’s spare time. Besides an art background, I’ve been a carpenter (4th generation), and cabinetmaker. After 30 years I have chosen to close my Carpentry-Artworks business down back in May of last year. In this economy it may never recover. Again, it was my choice and decision, no tears. My 1,400 square foot shop sits idle. To finance this project, John and I have had to rely on lines of credit and working spouses to “keep our boats afloat.” I don’t know what has taken a heavier toll in my household, eight months of lost wages, or me wanting to take a saw to our sofa as I craftily converted our living room to a Vivian Maier office space. I thought it was a good idea to match our dining room that was lost long ago to my cabinetry business.
Again, no tears, there’s the numerous hours I have put in on archiving and orchestrating all related aspects to the project. I’m blessed to be an insomniac. To date, I have not received any compensation and in order to continue to properly facilitate this project, keeping our best foot forward; it’s time for some “grease.” We now have a firm handle on my portion of the collection in addition to having a need for funding. Hence, the time is ripe for a show.
I asked Russell Bowman if he was interested in doing a show, largely because he is held in high esteem with both artists (myself included) and gallery owners here in Chicago. If you visit the Russell Bowman Art Advisory site and click the “About Us” link, you’ll be able to read an impressive description of Mr. Bowman’s accomplishments. Russell Bowman, having served for over 15 years as the Milwaukee Museum’s Director should bring comfort to all that the show will be handled in a top notch, professional manner. Bowman’s gallery is a small, warm, intimate space that I have always been fond of, and it seems appropriate for Vivian’s work.
Also on board for the show is the master printer, Ron Gordon, rongordonphoto.com. Ron is coming out of retirement and postponing his move to New York to do this project. Ron’s protégé, Sandra Steinbrecher, sandrasteinbrecher.com, who has a wonderful background as well, will assist in the production of silver gelatin prints. Most fortunate are we.
If you folks want to read a little more about me, Google “Illinois Wesleyan University” and my name, “Jeff Goldstein” to read an article about some of my art experience. Additionally, I have curated a few shows here in Chicago, including one as recent as this past fall. Over the years, I too have had a few showings of my work. I have no website…
As I was telling Robert Johnson, the guy responsible for this essay, besides the process of making art, I love the places art takes you and the people that you meet. I thank all those mentioned above. I am personally honored for their involvement and fortunate that our paths have crossed. My continuing thanks to Paul Natkin, natkin.net, who has added his indelible mark and professional touch to this project. His added touch has kept the project in the realm of respect and honor to the maker, Vivian Maier, of whom we never lose sight of. Thanks too, to Anne Zakaras on keeping day to day operations moving along in her upbeat way. Ongoing thanks to Frank Jackowiak and his staff of volunteers at the College of DuPage for their fine herculean effort they are performing on developing and making contact sheets of rolls of undeveloped film.
Thanks also to my wife Lisa Vogel, for her support, computer help and tolerance; tolerance both towards me, the project and the loss of a living room.