Vivian Dorothy Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009) was an American street photographer. Maier worked for about forty years as a nanny, mostly in Chicago's North Shore, pursuing photography during her spare time. She took more than 150,000 photographs during her lifetime, primarily of the people and architecture of Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles, although she also traveled and photographed worldwide.
During her lifetime, Maier's photographs were unknown and unpublished; many of her negatives were never printed. A Chicago collector, John Maloof, acquired some of Maier's photos in 2007, while two other Chicago-based collectors, Ron Slattery and Randy Prow, also found some of Maier's prints and negatives in her boxes and suitcases around the same time. Maier's photographs were first published on the Internet in July 2008, by Slattery, but the work received little response. In October 2009, Maloof linked his blog to a selection of Maier's photographs on the image-sharing website Flickr, and the results went viral, with thousands of people expressing interest. Maier's work subsequently attracted critical acclaim, and since then, Maier's photographs have been exhibited around the world.
Her life and work have been the subject of books and documentary films, including the film Finding Vivian Maier (2013), which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 87th Academy Awards.
Many details of Maier's life remain unknown. She was born in New York City in 1926, the daughter of a French mother, Maria Jaussaud Justin, and an Austrian father, Charles Maier (also known as Wilhelm). Several times during her childhood she moved between the U.S. and France, living with her mother in the Alpine village of Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur near her mother's relatives. Her father seems to have left the family temporarily for unknown reasons by 1930. In the 1930 census, the head of the household was listed as Jeanne Bertrand, a successful photographer who knew Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art. When Maier was 4, she and her mother moved to the Bronx with Bertrand, who at the time was a professional photographer.
In 1935, Vivian and her mother were living in Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur and before 1940 returned to New York. Her father and older brother Charles stayed in New York. The family of Charles, Maria, Vivian and Charles were living in New York in 1940, where her father worked as a steam engineer.
In 1951, aged 25, Maier moved from France to New York, where she worked in a sweatshop. She moved to the Chicago area's North Shore in 1956, where she worked primarily as a nanny and carer for the next 40 years. For her first 17 years in Chicago, Maier worked as a nanny for two families: the Gensburgs from 1956 to 1972, and the Raymonds from 1967 to 1973. Lane Gensburg later said of Maier, "She was like a real, live Mary Poppins," and said she never talked down to kids and was determined to show them the world outside their affluent suburb. The families that employed her described her as very private and reported that she spent her days off walking the streets of Chicago and taking photographs, usually with a Rolleiflex camera.
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