inspiration: vivian maier, street photographer

THIS VIDEO WAS SHARED YESTERDAY BY a photographer friend, who knew I’d love the story, and the life work, of Vivian Maier. The little-known street photographer (1926-2009) made her living as a nanny, and was described as Mary Poppins-like by some of the children she cared for. Even though she worked, she found–rather, she made–time for the creative self-expression she craved, and was content to keep the resulting images to herself, never seeking glory in her lifetime. Apparently the joy of creating was enough. Watch the segment, by WTTW/Chicago Public Media, and see if Maier’s photos and what’s known of her touch you as they did me. Curious to know more? This blog by the young man in the video tells her unfolding tale.

  1. Don’t you just love the name Vivian. I said it several times out loud and thought to myself, “why didn’t I name one of my 3 girls Vivian?” At 66 I won’t be, nor do I want to, have any more children. My life is similar to yours and I wouldn’t clutter for anything!!!

  2. Sheila says:

    This is astounding … how little we know about the people we pass on the street or sit next to in a cafe or employ ‘menial’ jobs. Thank you for sharing the video link.

  3. I had time to watch the video a few moments ago….and realized what a discovery this is for the Universe. Her photos are magic, and the pictures that are shown, many from my era as a young girl, brought back memories of cars, clothes, and life.
    Thank you for sharing this remarkable story.

  4. Terri Gildea says:

    What a wonderful gift you have shared~ Vivian’s story , Vivian’s view. Thank you for bringing her world into ours! A glimpse of another era, other faces, as seen through her lens…..MAGIC!!!!
    The light of this day feels ever brighter with this shared life~ merci, merci, merci.

  5. Amanda says:

    Thank you for sharing this story, it truly inspired me. I love collecting old photographs of unknown people, and this piece made me want to know not just the subject of the photos, but the taker, too! Brava to Vivian, and her story being finally told.

  6. Robin Follette says:

    Oh my! Such talent. I think she must have been someone who never ran out of interesting things to do and say.

  7. Jay Shefsky says:

    This morning I was driving back into Chicago musing about whether I might have another chapter in my life before retirement. I’m 53 and work as a TV producer and reporter at the PBS station here.

    But then I got home, walked in the garden, and wondered when I should prune that viburnum out back. A google search led me to your website, which led me to your new book, which led me to your video. Then I scrolled down and saw MY video, about Vivian Maier.

    Thanks for passing it on. I’m not quite ready to retire to the country. But you got me thinking.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Jay. This is too good to be true: That you found this funny little post through the magic of algorithm. Thank you for the video; thank you for this comment. Other than the relentless snow-shoveling and the occasional rattlesnake (true), the country ain’t so bad. The magic far outweighs the other bits.

      Welcome, Lorelei. It has been a real treat to happen on this body of work, and I am thankful to the friend who tipped me off (and to Jay, above, who made the video…and to John Maloof for his devotion to bringing the collection to light. What a story.

      Hope to see you both again soon.

  8. Lorelei says:

    Margaret, Thanks for posting this story, I loved the photos and hope someday they exhibit them in New York. Wonderful photos

  9. linda says:

    I live in the Chicago area and saw that Chicago Tonight piece when it aired. What an amazing, talented woman Vivian was! I’d wanted to the see the exhibit of her work at the Cultural Center, but wasn’t able to make it down there in time – it just ended yesterday. :(

    Considering the chance events that led to the discovery of her work captivates me. Being a Chicago girl, I recognize many of the sights. It’s fun to think that she and I have walked the same streets, seen the same sights, and who knows – we may even have crossed paths! Makes me think a little differently about the nameless faces I pass every day. Walking down the street any given day, I find myself making up imaginary stories about the lives, loves, and passions they could be living.

  10. Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening says:

    Have you seen the work of Verne Morton? Book of his photos
    Bio & representative photos
    Agricultural, rather than urban

  11. Brook Penick says:

    I love looking at anybody’s old pictures, but these are simply extraordinary! Thanks for letting us peek at such a treasure. Wouldn’t a nice, big ol’ coffee table book of some of these photos be wonderful?

    Margaret, I saw the episode of Martha Stewart where you made the baked beans, and I made them the following weekend – Delicious! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Sue says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the link to photographer Vivian Maier. What a treasure that young man now has in his possession.
    Have you heard of Nebraska photographer and novelist, Wright Morris?
    Thanks so much for all the info in your newsletter. I very much enjoyed your book “A Way to Garden” and look forward to reading your new book!
    I will be taking up gardening in a woodsy area in Maryland for the first time so my research will be how to keep the deer from eating the vegies. I welcome any comments regarding this.
    Thanks, Sue

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Brook, an so glad the beans were to your liking (and the photos, though I can take no credit for those, really).

      Welcome, Sue. No, but I am off to look for Wright Morris now, thank you. My comments re: deer eating things are simple: FENCE. Here’s my story on that.

  13. Rae says:

    Thank you for bringing this story to our attention. I do agree that this work is for the world to see even though Vivian was such a private person. There must have been some reasoning for cataloging all the negatives so that others may enjoy the photographs. They are very precious and I hope the young man doing all the scanning, etc. is able to get a grant from the arts so he is rewarded.

  14. Vivian Price says:

    Thanks for the video of Vivian Maier. I had read the story in the local newspaper, probably noticing it because of the same first name. For some reason, I was intrigued by her story. It is so wonderful that the young man thought the negatives and her things are important enough not to throw away….in this “throw-away” society we have now. I really hope the best for his investment.

    Love your blog.

  15. theresa says:

    How very wonderful and emotional for me to view these inspiring photos . I think she was
    unaware of how many people she would have touched if she shared what s obviously
    a gift , I feel blessed to have happened upon your website ….. thank you, thank you, thank you !!!!!!!!
    Theresa Scott

  16. Sue says:

    Thanks, Martha for the info regarding the fencing to keep deer out of the garden. Think we’ll go with 2 fences five feet apart. I also ordered the book you recommended in your blog since I’m sure deer won’t be the only critters visiting us. Thanks for sharing! Sue

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