SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain – Vivian Maier, a nanny and amateur photographer who posthumously rose to fame after lockers stuffed with her photos recording urban America were found, is the star of a show that previewed on Thursday in Spain.
The Tabakalera, in the northern Spanish city of San Sebastian, is showing an impressive collection of 135 photographs, 30 of which have never been exhibited before, at “Vivian Maier: Una Fotografa Revelada” (which roughly translates as “A developed photographer”).
“This is a person who, without a doubt, has a spot in the history of photography,” Anne Morin, the show’s curator told EFE on the eve of the exhibition’s opening.
Maier (1926-2009) to this day remains largely a mysterious figure.
She lived alone, without friends, nor lovers and surrounded by dark spaces.
Maier spent her childhood between the United States and France, where her mother hailed from.
She started snapping photos in the 1940s and her passion saw her scour the streets of New York with her camera in what was soon to become her lifelong obsession.
In 1952, she purchased her first Rolleiflex with which she started taking portraits of the children that she cared for.
She soon took her practice to the streets and started recording candid moments of city life.
Maier worked for the Gensbrug family in Chicago for 17 years.
The three Gensburg children, who had fond memories of the woman who looked after them whilst developing pictures in a dark bathroom, later joined forces to buy her an apartment and look after her.
Throughout her lifetime she amassed a whopping 120,000 negatives, which were discovered by chance in 2007.
In a moment that later defined moviemaker John Maloof’s career, he purchased Maier’s entire collection for just $300, which was in storage in lockers and was sold to pay off a debt.
Allan Sekula, a critic and historian, came to realize the extent of the trove that Maloof had acquired.
The findings soon became viral and firmly clinched their place in the history of photography as a remarkable and engrossing story.
The exhibition at the Tabakalera, which also includes some prints in color and several short movies shot in super eight-millimeter format from the 1960s onwards, pivots around six themes that are recurrent in Maier’s work.
People in deprived neighborhoods, children, workers, the glances of aloof, high-class women are all testament to Maier’s capabilities as a portraitist.
“Something that constituted the pillar upon which she built her identity,” Morin added.
Also included in the show are several self-portraits, quotidian New York and Chicago scenes and celebrity snaps, such as one of Frank Sinatra as he was leaving a cinema.
Maloof continued to work reconstructing her extensive archive of photos and Maier’s body of work has captivated a global audience and triggered a renewed interest in street photography.
“We have to make room for other people,” Maier said.
“It’s a wheel – you get on, you go to the end, and someone else has the same opportunity to go to the end, and so on, and somebody else takes their place. There’s nothing new under the sun.”