The Secret City of Vivian Maier

Photos from one of America’s greatest unknown street photographers.


In the winter of 2007, John Maloof, a 26-year-old Chicago realtor, stumbled upon a box of negatives at an auction house. He paid $400, hoping it might hold some vintage photos of his neighborhood. He stuffed the box in a closet. There the images sat for a couple of months, until he had time to scan a few into his computer. “Little by little I realized how good they were,” he told me. In the end, he collected more than 100,000 negatives, including a few thousand rolls of film. In one of the boxes, he eventually found an envelope with the name Vivian Maier scrawled on it. He googled her name and found a Chicago Tribune obituary. She had died a few days earlier. She was 83.

It’s impossible to take stock of Vivian Maier’s photos without taking stock of her story. She was by all accounts remarkably private, someone who didn’t always enjoy the company of other adults. And yet her photographs feel like a celebration of people—a celebration of what Studs Terkel, the late grand oral historian, liked to call “the etceteras” of the world. (One photography scholar I spoke with suggested Terkel and Maier would have made a formidable pair, like James Agee and Walker Evans.)

Her subjects are often caught looking directly at the camera, apparently making eye contact with Maier, but she used a Rolleiflex, a box-shaped camera that requires the photographer to look downwards through the viewfinder. In other words, as it turns out, Maier didn’t need to directly engage with her subjects, and many undoubtedly were unaware that she was, in fact, memorializing their images. Each feels like the beginning of a short story, a bit mysterious, not unlike Maier herself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more about Vivian Maier and how John Maloof discovered her photos.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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