Vivian Maier, Street Photographer.

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Image photographed from the book

This is a beautiful book that presents solely black and white images. To me it has an Elliott Erwitt feel to it in some regards as there are many humorous images in there and some where the main subject are dogs.

It is apparent from this book that Maier was able to build up a good rapport with most people and was unafraid to photograph strangers. I imagine this to be very difficult given it was a man’s world she was living in. To me Maier is a pioneer for women photographers.

The title of the book gives the subjects away, but what is not clear is the natural ability she has for making what could be a boring image, become interesting. She clearly had a raw talent and one that understood basic photographic principles, without any formal training. How clever she was. There are a multitude of different photographic techniques in the book, which draw the viewer in, making you feel you are there, with the subject. Images portray humour, but also the hard nature of the life people around her had.

What I also like is that she does not stick to the white race. There are a number of photographers of the black population, at a time when the vile scurge of racism was still accepted as the norm in America. It is great to see her challenge the pure white photography issue. Very brave.

My favourite image from the book is included below.

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Image taken from :- Maloof, J (2011) Vivian Maier, Street Photographer, USA: powerhouse books.

There are  number of reasons why I like this image. I will list them below.

  • symmetry within the frame
  • being in the right place at the right time
  • the cleaner’s shop being in the background, with the two large men cleaning up
  • there are two burly men, dealing with someone who appears to be smaller in stature
  • the faces of those watching in the background
  • the photographer is a lady in a man’s world
  • this is night time flash photography, which is somewhat unusual
  • the cigarette held in one of the men’s mouths
  • I have a number of questions around this about the man?
    • What had he done?
    • Was he drunk?
    • Had he been fighting?
    • Was he being treated fairly?
    • Was he picked on due to his size?
    • What was he wairing a suit?
    • What was his name?
    • What was his job?
    • Where did he live?
    • Did Maier know anyone in the image?
    • How did she know where the action would be?
    • Was she safe on her own in the dark back streets?
    • How did she feel?

I could go on with the questions, as the image raises more questions than answers.

I feel the book is well worth a look and a handy addition to my collection. Maier was new to me, and I have enjoyed her work and will return to it time and again.

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Project 1 Vivian Maier

The first thing I note about Vivian Maier is that she was born of  Hungarian Jewish heritage, whose family fled the conflict, murder and the utter pointless and vile destruction of the Jewish population in Europe, around the time of the second world war. I wonder if this had an unconscious effect on her work, as I am sure discussion at home would have covered such topics. The reason I raise this is due to my interest in the Holocaust and its’ effects on the world.

The main focus of her work was street photography and self portraiture. It is clear that she did not feel her images were worthy of publication, due to the way these were horded in storage, only seeing the light of day just before her death. My view is that she was interested in the process of making a photograph, rather than the final image, which seems odd given the number of cameras she appeared to own.

Her fame was only really established after death, echoing artists like Van Gogh, Lautrec and Gaugin. This is very sad given her subjects and the quality of her work, both of which I enjoy.

Although a lot of her work itself portraiture it is interesting to note that in these shots, her own image only takes up a small proportion of the overall image. Her face is dead pan, expressionless but the composition is very cleverly done and very artistic in most shots. She is also showing off her surroundings and the people around her. There is also a number of images where she is making use of her own shadow which is something I have done. Please see the 2 images below.

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My image, prior to knowing about Maier.
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Image taken from ; – Maier, V (2017) Self-Portrait, 1955 VM1955W02784-03-MC, Available at: http://www.vivianmaier.com/gallery/self-portraits/#slide-12 (Accessed: 01/08/17).

I have enjoyed researching Vivian Maier and may even use some of her work to influence my next assignment. There is one question that I am left with though, and that is what is she reflecting on? The answers are manifold and I will leave this up to the reader to decide.

Project 1 Gillian Wearing

Well, it’s nice to see an artist that keeps her clothes on!

In saying that she actually abandons her skin in one of her projects, “masks” to reflect her own take own family portraiture and as she is in the shot, adding a strange twist to the self-portrait.

Gillian Wearing is not just a photographer, she is an accomplished artist and adds and thought-provoking take on portraiture.

Masks gives me an uneasy feeling that I believe stems from my childhood whilst watching Hammer horror films as I remember one that appears similar to this piece of work. I just don’t like the masks although I acknowledge this is a good way to express portraiture. It is not a unique way of doing this as another component of masks was Claude Cahun, who die in 1954. They both as the question who am I and question their identity and that of others.