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Treasures of the lost and found

CCP: Crossing Paths with Vivian Maier

©Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection
Nothing thrills quite like the recovery of lost art works, radical re-assessments, the outing of forgers or, better, discovering the impressive archive of a hitherto unknown artist. American nanny and private photographer Vivian Maier (1926-2009) only ever sent a small selection of her photographs to gallerists or publishers in France and one to a family she worked for. One hundred thousand negatives of her images of street life, principally in Chicago, were discovered and some printed after her death, to great acclaim.

Not only was Maier an obsessive and very private photographer, she also exhibited eccentric characteristics, another plus for those taken with the curious lives and motivations of artists: “Residents of the Chicago suburb of Highland Park had gotten used to the nanny (taking photographs) along with her French accent, her penchant for wearing men’s coats and boots, and the look and gait that led children to call her ‘bird lady’” (David Zak, Smithsonian Magazine, Nov, 2011).

Maier’s black and white photographs are crisply precise (taken with a medium format Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera) and formally strong, yet blessed with a sense of street-life immediacy and moments of reflection—including images of herself, camera in hand. One gallerist, writes Zak, described her as “having the skill of an inborn melodist.”

Melbourne’s Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) is presenting a selection from Maier’s huge body of work alongside images by a fascinating array of Australian photographers Patrick Pound, David Wadelton, Debra Phillips and visual artists who, like Maier, turn the camera on themselves—Cherine Fahd, Gabriella and Silvana Mangano, Clare Rae, Simone Slee and Kellie Wells.

Maier’s work has now been exhibited internationally and a book, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, has been edited by John Maloof, the real estate agent who ‘discovered’ her by purchasing 30,000 of her images for $400 at an auction, purely out of curiosity. Finding Vivian Maier, a feature-length documentary by Maloof and Charlie Siskel, has been programmed in a multitude of international film festivals and will screen in the Melbourne Festival as a companion piece to Crossing Paths with Vivian Maier before its cinema release.

2014 Melbourne International Arts Festival: Crossing Paths with Vivian Maier, curators Naomi Cass, Louise Neri, Karra Rees, CCP, Melbourne, 3-26 Oct; Finding Vivian Maier, directors John Maloof, Charlie Siskel, ACMI, Melbourne 16, 18, 23 Oct

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 55

© RealTime ; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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