Exhibition tip: Vivian Maier at the German Gymnasium

Today i feel like recommending The London Street Photography Festival which opened a few days ago with exhibitions, talks, walks and workshops.

There’s a particularly moving show at the German Gymnasium, right outside St Pancras station. The images are splendid, elegant and often humorous but the moving part is the story of the photographer.

october1360-512.jpgOctober 13, 1960

55nyny-511.jpg1955, New York, NY

fall53-338.jpgFall, 1953

Very little is known about Vivian Maier. She moved from France to Chicago after World War II, learnt english by going to the theatre and soon found work as a nanny. She was very secretive, wore men’s shoes and big hats. Everywhere she went, she had a Rolleiflex camera hanging around her neck. She would photograph the legs of passersby, capture quirky urban moment or portray any eccentric characters she encountered during her walks, from the lady in pearl necklace to the homeless guy sitting on the pavement. One of the perks of her job as a nanny for rich families was that she had a private bathroom that she would use to develop her rolls of black and white photos.

1autopprotra075.jpgSelf-portrait, September 10th, 1955, New York City

As she got older, she amassed dozens of boxes of photographs or negatives, she also collected newspapers, and recorded audiotapes of conversations she had with the people she photographed. Having no space in her flat to keep them, she left some of them in a storage locker.

Towards the end of her life, Maier may have been homeless for some time. She lived on Social Security, but the children she had taken care of in the early 1950s bought her an apartment and paid her bills. In 2008, she slipped on ice and hit her head. She never fully recovered and died in 2009 at the age of 83.

Meanwhile, the negatives and documents were still in a storage locker and she had not enough money to pay for the fee. In 2007, John Maloof, then a young real estate agent in Chicago, bought the contents of her storage unit at an auction. He paid $400 for a box of what he hoped might be negatives of local architecture photographs.

It took him months to start developing the negatives and realize he had stumbled across something exceptional. By the time he managed to find her identity and track down her address, she had died.

0august-1975.jpgAugust 1975

00may-1976.jpgMay 1976

septembreny53-210.jpgSept, 1953, New York, NY

septeastny59-567.jpgSept 28, 1959, 108th St. East, New York, NY

septembre24195959-1060.jpgSept. 24, 1959, New York, NY

55neyneyvielle-970.jpg1955, New York, NY

au00gust2256-655.jpgAugust 22, 1956

junechicago56-588.jpgJune 16, 1956, Chicago, IL

untitleundate3382.jpgUntitled, Undated

untitledundate2408.jpgUntitled, Undated

167untitltl9.jpgUntitled, Undated

undatedcanada4039.jpgUndated, Canada

4terreauraci046.jpgUndated, Canada

Maloof regularly updates his photo blog with new shots by Vivian Maier. If you’re in London, Vivian Maier: A Life Uncovered is up until 24 July at the German Gymnasium.