Vivian Maier's Unseen Chicago

By Kevin Robinson in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 15, 2009 5:00PM

In this day and age of replica retro and manufactured memories, it's easy to lose sight of true nostalgia, surrounding ourselves instead with disposable memories and instant gratification. Which is why, when, a true gem from the past finds it's way to us, we're confronted with a real look at our past. One such event happened to John Maloof, who came across Vivian Maier's photography at an estate sale, and knew he had to share this unknown photographer's talents.

Central Camera (110 yr old camera shop in Chicago) has encountered Vivian from time to time when she would purchase film while out on the Chicago streets. From what they knew of her, they say she was a Jewish Refugee from wartime France who came to the U.S. in the early 1950's (some of her earlier work shows New York where she must have resided for some time). They say she was a very "keep your distance from me" type of person but was also outspoken. She loved foreign films and didn't care much for American films.

Some of her photos have pictures of children and often times it was near a beach. I later found out she was a nanny for a family on the North Side whose children these most likely were. Her obituary says she lived in Oak Park, a close Chicago suburb.

Out of the 30-40,000 negatives I have in the collection, about 10-15,000 negatives were still in rolls, undeveloped from the 1960's-1970's. I have been successfully developing these rolls. I still have about 600 rolls yet to develop. I must say, it's very exciting for me. Most of her negatives that were developed in sleeves have the date and location penciled in French (she also had poor penmanship).

Thanks to Mike Fourcher for the tip and to John Maloof for sharing Vivian's photos with us.