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Monday, September 1

Vivian Maier: Feeling the Love



Well, I didn't think my tentative proposal that Vivian had been "fast-tracked to the pantheon of great photographers because of her romantic back-story" would be so comprehensively shot down by almost all my readers (thanks Antonio!) who left comments. That's the last time I take you lot on! Seriously, though, I'm a life-long contrarian used to holding minority views so I can live with the opprobrium. Stick your head above the parapet, etc.

I loved the passion and enthusiasm for Vivian that shone through in many of the comments. I'm sure she'd be overwhelmed to know the high regard in which many - myself included - hold her. What a damned shame that she couldn't have lived to see how big a photographic celebrity she's become but it's not the first time that's happened to an artist and it won't be the last.

Having said that, it's entirely possible, being such a shy, introverted and attention-avoiding person, that she would have struggled to handle fame. Her personality no doubt played a major part in the way she approached photography and the success she enjoyed in her image-making. A more gregarious person might have found other interests aside from photography or been side-tracked (in the best possible way) by a family.

So thanks to everyone who took the time to add a comment to my post. I read every one, thought about them and appreciated many of the points you made. I still stick to my same opinion of Vivian's photography - that it's excellent but not quite up there with the best - but now I know that it's a view that largely seems to be my own. A contrarian to the last...

11 comments :

John Carter said...

No, you should question everything and be a contrarian (sp?). I don't think the 25 comments were just because we love Vivien, it is because it gives us hope that maybe we are just as good as Frank, HCB, Robert D., and many others (which, I think many of us are). We just didn't market ourselves like they did.

John Carter said...

And don't give up on being a contrarian just get a marketing manager. Very much like all the famous ones do.

Joe Iannandrea said...

I'm inclined to think that sort or notoriety would have done someone like Ms. Maier more harm than good. I do think it's a shame that she never enjoyed the financial rewards due a talent like hers as I understand this got to be a problem for her, at least later in life.

Antonio Aparicio said...

The more I think about VM and her work the more I think she was very talented and produced some very excellent images with a very nice camera and worked very hard at it but did not have the individual vision of people like Lee Friedlander, Cartier Bresson, Helen Levitt, etc

Perhaps had she been able to concentrate on her photography 100% instead of working as a nanny she would have got there eventually.

Still she leaves some lovely documents of a time and a place that I am sure many will enjoy for years to come.

Steve Barnett said...

I enjoyed your previous piece, not in agreeing with it, but it caused me to quietly reflect on why I like Maier's work so much.

But shy, I think not! A superiority complex maybe? Nobody who makes so many (excellent) self portraits is shy, because people see you do it. And the people who processed her film saw what she was doing. And she did go to art shows, she got around a lot and wasn't a naïve artist, but I think she was locked into a cycle of judging herself, and it would have been a friend or colleague who could have stopped this introversion and got her known in her day. Today we have Flickr, where imaginary friends are as good as real friends for letting you know your pictures are great ;-)

Herman Sheephouse said...

Bruce - if you've got an opinion, you are as well to voice it, and stick to it if that is what you believe. Certainly a certain amount of discourse can change opinions, but yours was founded on something you felt - if no one stated an opinion (no matter how unpopular) then the world would be a grey place and everyone would be in danger of being Dave in the pub on the Fast Show:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rh0ray9JnS0

Your readers have opinions, I have mine, Maier is fine, not excellent or world-changing, but fine, with a look lent in part by the combination of camera/film/place/time/situation.
That's my opinion - she took some nice photographs, but I wouldn't buy a book.

Antonio Aparicio said...

Bruce, I can highly recommend the following article on this very subject:

http://cphmag.com/in-defense-of-merit/

Bruce Robbins said...

Well, Antonio, looks like there are now four of us with a similar view of Vivian's work. Very interesting article you linked to. Thanks.

David M said...

"...the best." is rather difficult to establish. When we look at the work of the photographers who seem to have been mentioned most (even The Blessed HCB) we should perhaps remember that we are seeing the result of considerable editing. If you ever get to see their contact sheets, which are sometimes displayed, you can see how many of their images are "...not quite up..." either.
I suspect that she may indeed be very good, but not the best, but then, who is the best? We might have to wait a few years, see a few more images, have a little think, before we finally decide her place.
(For me, the very best is André Kertesz. You may differ, but you'd be wrong.)

Bruce Robbins said...

You'll get little argument from me over Kertesz, David.

steve said...

You might find this interesting. The Vivian Maier Lawsuit Begins: http://youtu.be/l4Zf8OuDs9M
Like you I personally don't see what all the hype is about. She took some nice photos, but I wouldn't go around saying she was a master of photography.