In 2007, realtor John Maloof, purchased a box of old negatives at auction, hoping to find vintage photos of his old Portage Park neighborhood in Chicago. He later bought more negatives along with rolls of film, 8mm movies and other documents. In total, he collected more than 100,000 negatives and a few thousand rolls of film. in 2009, searching through the boxes he found an envelope with the name Vivian Maier and after a google search he discovered that she had passed away just a few days earlier.
Two years prior to her death, Vivian Maier had failed to keep up payments on her storage unit and as a result, the contents were sold off at auction and sold to 3 different buyers. Maloof owns approximately 90% of Maier’s work including negatives, film, movies, and audio recordings. Realizing that these photos were good, he posted some of them on a blog in 2008 and received very little response. In 2009, he posted them again on Flickr and soon he was flooded with comments and emails. The photos went viral. Vivian Maier was born.
Vivian Maier worked as a nanny between the years of 1950-1990. Her first 17 years in Chicago she worked for two families, the Gensburgs and the Raymonds. She also spent time in the 1970’s as a housekeeper for Phil Donahue. According to the families in later interviews, Vivian spent all her off time taking photos with her Rolleiflex camera, often bringing the children along with her. She never married and reportedly never even received a personal phone call.
In 1959-1960, Maier took a trip around the world photographing places like Egypt, Syria, Italy, Bangkok, Manila, Beijing and Shanghai. The trip was probably funded by the sale of the family farm in France.
She photographed the rich, the poor, men, women and children. Maier didn’t care if you were dressed in heels or barefoot, young or old. She captured everything. Her work is a stunning visual history of yesteryear. Vivian Maier did not even see most of the photos she captured and almost never showed her work. The pictures “only needed to be made.”
Since the discovery of Maier’s photographs, she has attracted worldwide attention in the media and photography world. Her work is on display in gallery exhibits, the subject of several books and two documentaries. In 2014, a legal case was filed to determine the ownership rights to her estate.
For more on the Vivian Maier story, watch “Finding Vivian Maier”, the Academy Award Winning documentary on the life and discovery of Ms Maier.