7 Jan
Vivian Maier self portrait

Vivian Maier: Nanny or Great Photographer?

See the video below…

A late nanny’s possessions reveal hundreds of thousands of negatives, tremendous unknown talent, and a vivid portrait of mid-century Chicago.

I want to go to Chicago. I want to help scan the photos. I want to see them all.

This is the kind of story that makes me greedy — unearthing history, art, and the mind of the mysterious photographer. One hundred thousand moments of Ms. Maier’s life & Chicago history, many never before  seen.

And that’s what makes it most exciting of all — that there is still uncharted territory, new treasure to be found.

Naturally, I’ve been waxing philosophical about the story. I won’t bore you with the details, but, basically, I’m thinking about how we can see exactly what the photographer saw and get a feel for her opinion on each subject, but we will never know the exact story or what she was thinking. And maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the raw image and the viewer’s reaction is the story.

With a writer, you can read the story and what the author was thinking, but you can only catch a glimpse of the actual images in the author’s mind. Unless the author is a talented artist, no one will ever see what they see, no matter how evocative their descriptions. And maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the images created in the readers’ minds are more important.

But back to Vivian Maier…

I have a box of glass stereoscopic slides from the 1920s-30s, showing random scenes of Chicago. One thing I love about them is they’re not professional — just amateur photos from a family who lived in the Beverly Woods neighborhood. They aren’t as clear or artistic as these, but they’re pretty nice, and they are in 3D, which adds an element of magic to unguarded moments of the past:  horse-drawn buggies mingling with automobiles downtown, landmark buildings surrounded by others which have since been torn down, old cemeteries, an airship over skyscrapers, their rather Edwardian living room, etc. And you feel like you can reach right through the age spots, peeling corners, and scratches into that black and white world. Grab it. I hope that someday I can scan them before they decay too far.

2 Responses to “Treasure”

  1. Lisa Potts January 7, 2011 at 20:08 #

    Wow, what a neat look at history. Old photos are priceless. I remember finding a box of slides up in the attic room of my grandma’s house. It was like walking into a time machine. The fact that they were just shots of everyday life made them even more special.

    I do hope you’re able to scan yours before time takes it’s toll.

  2. Caroline January 7, 2011 at 20:21 #

    Everyday life is fascinating. We’ve all seen the postcard and portrait version of history, heard of politics and battles, but it wasn’t until I had college professors who talked about history with passion and personal detail that history came to life for me. Photos like this do the same.

    Thanks for reading!

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