In a world where we provide a minute-by-minute account of what we are eating or share our latest vacation image for the world to see, it’s hard to imagine someone taking photographs never meant to be shared. However, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Vivian Maier recorder her life primarily thought the images she took while she traveled the world—on her own and with the families that hired her as a nanny. Her body of work includes hundreds of thousands of photographs… from Chicago and New York City to France, Bangkok, and Beijing. Vivian has become one of America’s newly recognized and celebrated street photographers, capturing pieces of life and Americana that are unparalleled.
There are two amazing parts of this story. One is the mystery surrounding the woman herself. Not much is known about her except remembrances from the children she cared for — who eventually took care of her in the twilight of her life. She was known to be a free spirit with a proud soul. She was opinionated and had a very liberal worldview, yet she was intensely private. Her camera was her constant companion.
The second amazing thing is that her work was only discovered in 2007 when a storage locker of hers was auctioned off due to delinquent payments. These lockers housed the amassed treasury of photos Vivian had taken over forty years. The images show sensitivity, a remarkable eye, and some of the most interesting shots we have of urban America. And, unlike how we take ten photos of ourselves on our phone, most of these images were single takes, seen only by her for that instant in the viewfinder and then placed in her locker for only her to know. In effect, these make up a secret journal of her life, beautifully capturing the everyday things she chose to witness and record.
Looking through her collection, one can almost imagine the environmental sense of the moment. There is a feeling of stepping back in time, witnessing a moment only experienced by the observer. Most of her images capture the simplest moments, yet through her lens they become beautiful and special.
Outside of the many oddities of this story, the most wonder-filled lesson is that there is treasure all around us if we would only pause to see it. Not in an Instagram sort of way, but truly observing what’s in front of you and around you — being fully present and taking it all in.
Take time to visit her collection, and then pause today and record what you SEE.