“I’m a sort of spy”
Most people when they realize a camera is pointed in their direction put on their photo face, strike the pose they believe represents their persona. It is the kiss of death for the Street photographer. The fleeting moment the photographer saw that prompted the shot has been subverted by the subject.
The American, quasi-French street photographer Vivian Maier had the perfect cover in the best John le Carré tradition. Who would suspect the non-descript woman with a couple of kids in tow was a strett photographer? Was that a camera hanging around her neck? Such was Maier’s mode of operation.
A nanny for most of her adult life, Maier would take her charges on long walks, often in the seedier parts of town. They were well aware these walks were not really for their benefit but to take photographs. As one of her “children”, Sarah Ludington, nee Matthews, recalls "I liked the walks. By the end, I would be in pain. We were walking probably 10 miles which when you're little is a long way, but often she would take us to the beach at the end." Her brother John adds “I always got the feeling that what she wanted to do was take photos and hauling the kids around was just a chore."
A loner, Maier has been described by those who crossed per path as uncompromising yet playful, curious yet intensely private, and aloof to the point of callousness, even cruelty. To which could be added confident as the over 100,000 undeveloped negatives discovered upon her death attest. She felt no need to check the results of her days exploits. Or, perhaps, she just didn’t care, being a part of the unforgiving moment was enough for her.
But the quality of the work Maier bequeathed to the future would suggest otherwise. Her photographs are good, very good indeed and she was aware that they couldn’t really be changed after the fact. Like all great artists a sixth sense told her if she had captured her vision.
A retrospective exhbition of her work Vivian Maier - Street Photographer is currently on show at Amsterdam's Foam Photography Museum until the 1st of February.