Earlier this week, while reading KPCC’s always fun and photo centered LA based Tumblr KPSeeSee, they had a beautiful black and white photo of a lost-in-thought woman outside of the New York Public Library (who actually looks similar to Audrey Hepburn). It was very obvious that the piece was neither contemporary or from Los Angeles, which was a bummer because it was piece that needed to be shared. However, the photographer–Vivian Maier–is the star of an exhibition up at La Brea’s Merry Karnowsky Gallery, an exhibit that gives the history of an artist that was nearly left behind in time.
Maier’s story isn’t very easy to describe and you may be wondering why her work is even being exhibited at all. Well, here’s the scoop: Maier was a caregiver, working as a nanny for much of her life in New York and eventually Chicago. She was in no way a photographer by trade, but picked it up as a hobby and was very, very committed to it. Her work was not discovered until posthumously in 2007, when photographer John Maloof discovered them at an estate sale. From there, her work has been revived and exhibited all over.
Maier’s work is so fantastic because they showcase people in a way that most photographers can’t really do: she has an intelligence in her point of view that very, very few can will ever have. They are all full of life and emotion and substance and transcend the relationship between artist and subject. Here work also brings up a tension as her work is definitely off the cuff, but they all seem almost as if she set and executed a quick photo shoot with each subject. Her photos tell very complex tales of mid-century America that, although we may not ever know the background stories of, we can imagine and dream of what they are. Maier is a lot like Lee Miller, but without the privileges that the world of fashion gave to Ms. Miller. If only Maier had been given the same opportunities, she may have placed a huge dent in the world of photography.
It’s remarkable that Maier’s work was found and that she is finally getting recognized for her brilliant eye. Her show at Merry Karnowsky is up through January 28th and is exhibited through the support of actor Tim Roth. You can also listen to a story John Rabe did for KPCC’s Off-Ramp on Maier, Maloof, and viewers thoughts on her work.