Tag Archives: vivian maier

The Girl in the Gallery


A few months ago, I walked into the Steven Kasher Gallery to catch the exhibition of Vivian Maier: Unseen Images. I had been following the story of Vivian Maier, who spent 40 years of her life working as a nanny in both Chicago and New York. On her days off, she wandered the streets of these cities accompanied only by her Rolleiflex camera. She shot people and store windows, streetscapes, and captured tiny moments we often overlook in our quest to get from point A to point B. Despite this, she never set up a shot. She simply looked through her viewfinder, clicked once, and kept walking. That confidence and boldness comes across in all of her images — though Vivian Maier probably did not know this herself, since most of her rolls of film remained undeveloped or only existed in negative form. She was never discovered or lauded for her work. She died quietly in Chicago in 2009. A few years earlier, 100,000 of Ms. Maier’s negatives, 2,000 undeveloped rolls of film, were discovered in a commercial storage unit . 30,000 of those negatives were auctioned off for $400 to a man named John Maloof. He then found other buyers to acquire the remainder of the negatives. Maloof didn’t know what he had until he began scanning the images and posting them to Flickr, where people started to comment. Then, this news story on Maloof’s find went viral, and the rest became internet history.

As someone who spent high school behind a camera or in my school’s dark room, I was drawn to this story. In college, I had put down my camera and pursued fleshing out my images through words and sentences. It wasn’t until I got an iPhone in 2009 that I remembered how much I loved taking pictures. Once I started clicking, I never stopped. My style is similar to Maier’s in that I click once and move on. If I get it, great. If I don’t, the image stays burned on my brain and eventually finds its way into words on a page. Where we differ is that I will process my photo through different filter styles before settling on one fixed image. Then, I upload it to my photo Tumblr. Everything I shoot passes by my eyes more than once. But, in this digital world, rarely do I print my images. They never get the opportunity to breath beyond the pixels of a computer screen.

All of these reasons sent me into the Kasher gallery that day, where one of the other buyers of Maier’s negatives, Jeff Goldstein, had put together a show of Vivian’s work. I walked past the Weegee photographs and into the corner where Maier’s work was displayed. I took my time in front of each image. There was humor, life, sadness, and utter realness. I stood there alone for a long time before an older man came into the gallery and joined my viewing party. He also took his time examining each photograph. I sensed something different about the way he looked, with an intense personal connection. We struck up a conversation and I learned his name is Ron Gordon and he is the person responsible for printing Vivian’s images. He got to see what she did not, that magical moment when chemicals react and an image begins to appear, ghost-like at first, and then solid and sharp in the chemical bath. He toured me through each image, talking about the framing, shading, and how he decided on the printing process, as each was unique. He used the best phrase to describe Vivian’s style of capturing her subjects: “She was out so much, the moments started to find her. She wore her camera around her neck like jewelry.” We stood in front of the last image, one I kept coming back to, lingering over. I felt like I could have a conversation with the photograph forever. Endless stories were housed in this 20 x 20 image and I wanted to know them all.

It never occurred to me, walking into that gallery, into any gallery, that I could afford to buy something on its walls. Not that I had any business buying something, being a freelancer with a meager savings account. But I looked in the book, saw the price and thought, I could do this. And, after some additional homework, I did. I was taken to a back room, shown the remainder of the prints that were left (only 15 are printed from each negative) and chose one. I put down a deposit. The print was sent to the framer and three weeks and a few more payments later, the photograph is now mine.

I still marvel at the fact that, by owning this photograph, I become a part of Vivian Maier’s story, of a moment she captured with her Rolleiflex, of the street hustler gazing directly at her, with a face as storied as they come.


Monday’s Watch, Listen, Read

An ongoing series where I share what I’m watching, listening to, and reading. Here are this Monday’s picks:


As someone who loves to take pictures, and is a big fan of street photography, this story really touched me. It’s nothing short of amazing and is absolutely inspiring.


It felt appropriate to introduce this week’s Read pick with a song by the author. Especially this song.


I must confess, it took me a while to get into the rhythm of this book. There’s something different about reading poets who turn to novel/non-fiction writing. Their language is laden with a beautiful density. It’s like the breath of their sentences is deeper than that of book writers because they typically have so much less space to work with. Their words are more carefully chosen and layered with meaning. Novelists have that, too, but not in the same capacity as poets. Patti Smith is a poet. Once I let her voice take over, I dove into the depths of words and language. “Just Kids” is about art, sacrifice, and most importantly, love. There were moments where I entirely identified with Smith’s thoughts, feelings and actions. Other moments, the more brutal ones, made me think about art and its place in my life: How much would I be willing to sacrifice for my passion? It also brought to mind this Carl Jung quote:

“The artist’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts, for two forces are at war within him—on the one hand, the common longing for happiness, satisfaction and security in life, and on the other a ruthless passion for creation which may go so far as to override every personal desire. There are hardly any exceptions to the rule that a person must pay dearly for the divine gift of creative fire.”

There’s a ruthless passion in both Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, but I wondered if Smith ever wanted or needed the force of security. She makes clear Robert Mapplethorpe wanted it, but, during the time period the book covers, I wasn’t so sure about her. They sacrificed themselves physically, mentally and emotionally for the “divine gift of creative fire” and, through their sacrifice, changed the world(s) of art/music/photography/poetry — all of this while they were still just kids.

P.S. It always excites me to read books that take place literally outside my front stoop. There’s inspiration in stepping in the invisible footprints of the world’s great adventurers. While reading this book, there were a few times I stopped, walked out my door and over to the Hotel Chelsea just to read about that very building while standing in the lobby. I drank sangria in El Quijote while Smith’s words took me back to what it was like there in the 1969/1970. New York is a place full of ghosts and magic. Luckily, there are poets like Patti Smith who lead the exploration and became cartographers to the generations of young New York artists who will follow their paths.