Published on - Lotte Poté

Mysterious street photography

The story of Vivian Maier

She is one of the most remarkable discoveries of the 21st century. Vivian Maier, a New York City nanny who suddenly became world-famous after her death in 2009. Now, Bozar is devoting an exhibition to the newly rediscovered street photographer. Until 28 August, you can discover her 'selfies before their time' at the Vivian Maier exhibition. The Self-Portrait and its Double. Who was this somewhat inscrutable, enigmatic, but ever-talented woman?

“Well, I suppose nothing is meant to last forever. We have to make room for other people. It’s a wheel. You get on, you have to go to the end. And then somebody has the same opportunity to go to the end and so on.”
- Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier was born in the Bronx neighbourhood of New York on 1 February 1926, though she spent most of her childhood in France, her mother's home. She acquired a modest Kodak Brownie box camera to take her first photos. In 1951, she returned by steamboat to the United States, where she would spend the rest of her life working as a nanny. With her Rolleiflex camera around her neck, she sought out the streets of the metropolis. When passion almost became obsession, she captured some of the most interesting street scenes on film for years. The more than 10,000 negatives, films and audio recordings are a fascinating blueprint of post-war American life.

From a very young age, Vivian had been on her own. She never married, had no children and no close friends. Moreover, Vivian kept her photography hidden from the eyes of others for a lifetime. She was not well-off and did not always have the means to develop her photographs, so the rolls of negatives accumulated over the many years.

Vivian's work finally came to light in 2007, when it was sold at a local thrift auction house in Chicago. The many photos could finally be released to the world. But the life of the man who discovered and defended Vivian, John Maloof, would also change forever.

The exhibition at the Centre for Fine Arts is not subtitled The Self-Portrait and its Double for no reason. The popularity of the selfie in 2022 probably explains the attractiveness of Vivian's photography today. In her 'selfies before their time', the photographer appears again and again, in a shadow, a reflection or a mirror. Come and discover it for yourself, diving into last century's America and the life of the eccentric photographer Vivian Maier.