Vivian Maier work on show in the UK
MK Gallery is presenting the first UK exhibition of acclaimed photographer Vivian Maier.
by Sheena Campbell
The work of Vivian Maier, secret star of 20th-century street photography, is on display in the UK for the first time.
A major exhibition of Maier’s work is on at MK Gallery until September 25.
It uncovers the remarkable story of the Chicago nanny who led a double-life as one of the greatest street photographers of the 20th century.
Anthony Spira, director of MK Gallery, said: “Vivian Maier’s story is an extraordinary one.
“The nanny who lived secretly as a world-class photographer whose remarkable work remained virtually unknown in her lifetime is now hailed as one of the greatest recorders of American life in the 20th century, cementing her place in the history of photography alongside Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus, and Robert Frank.”
A great photographic discovery
Maier (1926-2009) worked as a nanny in New York and Chicago for more than 40 years.
The children she looked after called her a ‘real-life Mary Poppins’.
Endlessly curious but intensely private, her anonymity became her disguise.
Always with her Rolleiflex camera, Maier captured daily life on the streets.
She produced an extraordinary body of work of more than 150,000 images, as well as Super 8 and 16mm films, prints, audio tapes, and reams of undeveloped film.
Yet she shared this work with virtually no one in her lifetime.
Maier’s work only came to light in 2007 – just two years before her death.
Her vast hoard of negatives was discovered stashed in a Chicago storage locker and auctioned, becoming one of the great photographic discoveries of the century.
Tender and striking portraits
The exhibition at MK Gallery features more than 130 black-and-white and colour photographs.
Film and audio will also reveal the breadth of Maier’s work and her fascination for observing and recording everyday life.
Her images, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, are of the street life and architecture of New York and Chicago.
She captured the relationships, interactions, and expressions of the masses on the street.
Maier’s tender and striking portraits of families, children, and women, present a distinctive record of urban America in the mid-20th century.
An eclectic yet intimate portrait
From glamorous housewives to the homeless and destitute, Maier’s portraits capture the highs and lows of everyday life.
Street scenes and aerial shots use shadows and reflections to capture the improvised moments that make up a community.
Smouldering furniture, abandoned toys, tangles of electric cables all set the scene as families, workers and commuters go about their daily business.
Being self-taught and anonymous, Maier presents a view of America that is as eclectic as it is intimate and piercing.
Although considered reclusive, she also produced many experimental self-portraits, frequently casting herself in a shadow or reflection in a mirror.
All Maier’s images are infused with wit, humour and a deep sense of humanity.
It is these attributes that have attracted a cult following since the Oscar-nominated documentary Finding Vivian Maier (2013).
Born in New York in 1926 to an Austro-Hungarian father and French mother, Maier split her time between Europe and the US before settling in New York in 1951.
In 1956 she moved to Chicago, working as a nanny for families in an upper-class suburb for more than 40 years.
The families she lived with knew little about her life and background.
She never married and had no children.
In later life Maier was looked after by three of the children she had cared for.
They pooled together to pay for an apartment and took care of her until her death in 2009.
Unbeknownst to them, one of Maier’s storage lockers – stuffed to the brim with negatives, film recordings, newspaper clippings and books – was auctioned off due to missed payments.
It was this auction that would lead to the world discovering her work.
Vivian Maier’s work is on show at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, until September 25.
The exhibition is curated by Anne Morin and produced by diChroma photography, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY.
Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm.
Visit mkgallery.org/event/vivian-maier for more information.