Today’s blog addresses the piece of writing I worked on today. A well-overdue review of a book about Chicago’s Vivian Maier. Vivian, if you don’t know about her, worked as a nanny for most of her life and semi-secretly made a vocation of photography. Through the middle of the 20th century, Vivian snapped pictures of people on the street, self-portraits, urbanity and urban decay, and, as a strange sidebar, newspapers and documents, page by page. Vivian seemed uninterested in earning a living as a photographer. Good as she was, photography seemed more of an obsession than a means of self-expression. Afflicted with hoarding syndrome that grew worse with age, Vivian took tens of thousands of pictures, printed some, but mostly sacked away thousands of rolls of undeveloped film. When she died, few folks knew she’d been a serious photographer.
Then certain men found her photographs after buying the contents of several unpaid storage units. Vivian was declared an unrecognized genius (some of her photos were quite nice, possessing Weegee-esque and Arbusian aspects), the price of her photographs soared, and Chicago adopted her as one of our many weirdo saints (St. Veronica, shown, is the official shutterbug saint for the Catholic Church, by the way). The book I read did a good job of discovering where Vivian came from, what much of her life was like, and why she took photographs. Finding out who she really was, however, will always be an impossibility. Especially now that others who stand to profit from her work most benefit from defining her.