Last Saturday I went to visit an exhibition of photos taken by Vivian Maier, an American photographer who was unknown to me.
From the early 50s, she spent over forty years working as a nanny, first in New York and later in Chicago.
Only recently, in 2007, her photographic work was discovered. She spent her lifetime in anonymity despite her impressive work. More than 120,000 negatives, films in Super 8 and 16 mm, various audio recordings, some developed photos, and hundreds of non-developed rolls of film.
Photography was not only her hobby but also her true passion. It raised her to the rank of the most emblematic “street photographer” and earned her a place in the History of Photography, alongside Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Helen Levitt.
The discovery of her work makes us understand the importance of having a purpose in life.
Actually, Vivian Maier the “nanny” could become Vivian Maier the photographer”.
There are recurring themes throughout her work. You can find street scenes, portraits of strangers, but also people she knew. The children she used to work with were one of her favourite subjects.
She was also fond of self-portraits. There were quite many at the exhibition, she appears in multiple forms and several variations to the point of becoming a sort of duality.
Unlike the myth of Narcissus, who destroyed himself in the contemplation and even adulation of his own image, Vivian Maier’s interest in self-portraits was more like a quest for her own identity.
The work as a nanny would give her the money to enjoy the freedom of expressing herself through her passion, photography.
This anonymity gave her the chance to set the proof of her presence in a world she seemed to have no real place in.
In the reflections of her face in a mirror, or her shadow stretched out on the ground, or in the outline of the body, she affirmed her presence in the world at a particular place and time.
The shadows were her body in the negative and they give us the duality of her playing with her own image, by disappearing and emerging again. And this is the way she defined herself.
This exhibition left me with some unanswered questions.
- How many invisible artists are there in the world? Do you know any?
- Would they pursue their passion regardless of the fame they may or may not get?
- How would you define yourself?
I know several artists who do other jobs but still pursue their passion and would never give up.
However, I don’t know how to define myself yet. Maybe through blogging? Or getting to know other people and other cultures? By sharing knowledge? Helping people in search of meaning? All of that?
And what about you? Let me know in the comments.
Speaking of blogging, please visit my personal blog crisbiecoach.