The Mysterious Vivian Maier

by Emma Claire Goodman

“She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved. She wore a men’s jacket, men’s shoes and a large hat most of the time. She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t show anyone.” (John Maloof, via

It is the classic tale of the unknown talent.

Vivian Maier has been described as perhaps one of the best street photographers of the 20th century. Her work “revealed the beauties and complexities of domesticity,” ( capturing an estimated 100,000 moments of poignancy and magnificence.

And her work was only discovered and revealed to the world shortly after her death. 

 Vivian Maier worked for most of her life as a nanny for families in Chicago. Former employers remember her for her strong opinions, and the camera always around her neck. Although she never showed her photographs to anyone, and in fact when they were discovered about a third of the negatives were still on the rolls, she was diligent; between 1959 and 1960 she traveled the globe, from the American Southwest to Bangkok, Manila, Beijing, Italy, Los Angeles, and Egypt, taking pictures in each location.

 Maier’s work was finally acknowledged in 2007, when 26-year-old real estate agent John Maloof purchased 30,000 negatives at an auction house that had acquired the photographs from a storage locker of Maier’s after she had failed to pay the fees. Captivated, he sought out other buyers of the negatives from the auction. Maloof was only able to learn more about the life of the extraordinary photographer when her obituary notice was published in the Chicago Tribune in 2009. Soon afterward, Maloof began a mission to publish Maier’s photography, intending to also release a book about her life and work.

 The book is scheduled to be released in fall 2011, and a feature-length documentary film about Maier and Maloof’s discovery of her work, titled Finding Vivian Maier, is scheduled for release in 2012.

 We are captivated as more details about the life of mysterious Maier are brought to light, and more of her incredible talent is shared with the world.

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