Vivian Maier took more than 100,000 photographs but never meant for them to be seen, displayed, or even discovered. Now, they are selling for thousands.
A decade since she died in a remote Chicago senior home after slipping on ice and hitting her head, a major collection of her photos is going on display and sale in the UK for the first time.
Howard Greenberg, the New York-based photography dealer, is bringing more than 100 prints of Maeir’s work to Photo London, the annual photography fair taking place in London’s Somerset House from 16-19th of May. Each of her photos, printed after her negatives were discovered, will be available for purchase with prices ranging from $5,000 to $6,500.
The sale and exhibition has been highly anticipated in recent years. For many photography lovers and art collectors alike, the Vivian Maier narrative is well-known. A feature film about her story was nominated for an Oscar a few years ago. But the timeline from discovery to commercial popularity was a long one, filled with legal disputes over ownership, royalties and inheritance claims from her heirs.
Her commercial popularity started when a Chicago historian purchased a storage locker at an auction in 2007. The historian, John Maloof, found himself as the accidental new owner of the treasure trove that carried over 90% of Maier’s work. This included an endless cache of negatives, prints, recordings, and film clips that captured life in Chicago throughout the 50’s through the 70’s.
There is no documentation anywhere to show that Maier ever showed her works to anyone. Maloof shared the scanned images online and along with her story, they went viral. “The history of street photography is being rewritten,” a CBS News anchor said as the story broke.
“She didn’t want people to know about her work. She wanted to hide herself away”
Maier spent her upbringing in France and her adult life in Chicago. She was a nanny with a strong hobby of taking photos. She would photograph the streets, children, passerby’s and frequently, herself. She would even take self-portraits to capture her own shadow.
“She was clearly a very talented and very obsessive photographer,” Greenberg told The Art Newspaper. “But she didn’t reveal it. She didn’t want people to know about her work. She wanted to hide herself away.”
What she would currently think of her current popularity and commercial success is questionable. Maloof went to produce a documentary that was released in 2013 about her life and ended up winning several awards before being nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscar. It grossed over $2.2 million at the box office and featured famed photographers like Mary Ellen Mark, Joel Meyerowitz and actor Tim Roth, who is a collector himself. It also interviewed several Chicago natives who recall her time as their nanny.
After more than two years of legal procedures over the rights to her images, the case was settled out of court with confidential terms. For now, Maier’s works at the very least can be seen and enjoyed in public.
Photo London takes place at the Somerset House in London from May 16-19.