Vivian Maier - the Secret Photographer

What’s up street photographers? Today I would like to introduce a photographer who had been taking photos for many years but never actually showed them to anyone, the secret photographer who was rediscovered in 2009. She shot over one hundred thousand negatives and rewrote the history of street photography. Let’s take a closer look at Vivian Maier.

Before she was rediscovered in 2009 by John Maloof, she had kind of an ordinary life. That’s at least what everyone thought. She was born in New York City in 1926 to a French mother and an Austrian father whao left the family when she was young. She moved many times between the United States and France. At the age of 4 she moved to New York with her mother and photographer Jeanne Bertrand. Fast forwarding she became a nanny in the states for almost 40 years. We don’t know if she loved her job but she definitely didn’t hate it since it allowed her to be able to walk outside and do something else that she loved - photography.

Untitled Self Portrait, Undated ©️ Estate of Vivian Maier.

Untitled Self Portrait, Undated ©️ Estate of Vivian Maier.

Our story actually begins just before she died. She had this storage unit rented and when she was unable to pay for the rent her things ended up in an auction. John

Maloof (malůf) was writing a book about Chicago and since he needed photos for his book he decided to visit a local auction house where he bought a box of negatives. Now, let’s fast forward. Vivian became a new street photography celebrity. There is a wonderful movie that got many awards and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. If you are interested in this story I would strongly recommend checking out this movie. You can find it here.

As for the photography techniques and composition, Vivian mostly shot with her Roleiflex camera. When you think about it, it’s a pretty good street camera. Especially nowadays when there is no invisible- like shooting technique or camera color. Whenever someone takes an object to their eye level (it can be regular camera, phone or tablet) pretty much everyone is going to think that person is taking pictures. With releiflex the camera is at the waist and you don’t even have to make eye contact with your subject.

When analyzing the body of her work it is not easy to categorize her. She took pictures of everything. Funny moments, sad moments, trash cans, expressions, old people, children or animals.

Chicagoland, 1957 ©️2016 Estate of Vivian Maier. Courtesy of Maloof Collection.

Chicagoland, 1957 ©️2016 Estate of Vivian Maier. Courtesy of Maloof Collection.

She also used leading lines, rhythm and sub framing a lot in her composition

Another chapter is the street portraits where she was not afraid to get pretty close to get a picture she wanted. We can kind of say she was an embodiment of Robert Capa’s “If your pictures are not good enough you are not close enough.”

Vivian Maier, Untitled, May 1958 ©️ Estate of Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier, Untitled, May 1958 ©️ Estate of Vivian Maier

What I think is that she was mostly interested in expressions whenever they were happy or sad and that is what I like about her photography. A lot of her photos, especially the photos of children, take advantage of the roleiflex being the same height as her waist and catching children at their eye level

If you want to find more about Vivien I would recommend visiting the official website and checking out the movie.

There is a lot we do not know about her and some questions will probably never be answered. What we actually do know is her photography and the sense for the scene was incredible. I hope you enjoy her photography as much as I do.

If you want to find more information here are some sources and interesting pages:


Finding Vivian Maier