The Semple team arrived at the Photofusion gallery in South London to preview the inspiring photographs of Vivian Maier (1926-2009). Now a recognised figure of 20th Century Street Photography, Maier has been accredited by The New York Times as ‘evidently one of America’s most insightful photographers’.

The story of Maier’s life and beyond is captivatingly close to a Hollywood tale and all part of her deservedly rising fame. An American of European descent, Maier often travelled across the Atlantic before settling in New York City in 1951 where she honed her talents. 1956 saw her leave the East Coast for Chicago where she spent most of her working life as a nanny. Photography, however, was the constant that she maintained well into the 1990’s and is yet something she never openly shared. With her storage locker and its content sold off for non-payment, John Maloof, a former estate agent, came across her collection of negatives and undeveloped films at an auction house in Chicago in 2007. This highly alluring story of the near loss of her photographs and their later discovery is endorsed by Maloof’s compassionate attempts to now completely restore the entire archive. Extending beyond the exhibition, the breadth of Maier’s entire collection spans to 100,000 negatives and is a worldwide exploration depicting her talent to capture the familiar as well as the unfamiliar.

All images are untitled, copyright © Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection
All images are untitled, copyright © Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection
All images are untitled, copyright © Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection

The intimate space of this tucked away gallery is complimentary to the secretive nature of Maier’s photography. Rolleiflex in hand, Maier wandered the street on her days off, her awareness of the surrounding world showing a heightened attention to fascinating everyday life. Demonstrating the traits of a professional street photographer with her eye for detail, composition, light and perfect timing, this exhibition depicts a sincere reflection of 1950’s and 60’s urban America. You can feel her affection for the everyday as she captured an array of details. The exhibition features architectural structures, impulsive street scenes and street portraiture, the wealthy to the homeless and detailed fractions of clothing. Most striking are the varying degrees of awareness given to the camera by Maier’s subjects. The viewer unnerved as one stares straight down Maier’s lens in contrast to the detachment one feels when Maier’s subject’s are unaware of her presence.

Disappointingly, little has been written exclusively about these vignettes of the everyday. Most media attention focuses on their discovery and the romantic notion of an artist rising to fame after they have past.  An inspiring woman, Maier stayed true to her passion and never allowed her occupation as a nanny to inhibit her interest in capturing the everyday. Poignantly, what also appears to make Maier so unique and altogether more captivating is her desire not to be discovered, a refreshing change to the renowned idea of the struggling ‘genius’.

29th July – 16th September

Photofusion, 17a Electric Lane, London, SW9 8LA

Jasmin Hadfield

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