For a number of years, I have frequented a flea market on Chicago’s West Side. In the spring of 2010, stories about a recently discovered amateur photographer named Vivian Maier surfaced and filtered through the market crowd. It was here that I first learned about Vivian Maier and her remarkable photographs. I eventually heard a story from one of the original buyers that when Vivian Maier’s collection had come up at a local auction, it had been acquired and dispersed among a few individual bidders. Shortly thereafter an opportunity arose, and I acquired 57 photographs from one of the original buyers. Flea market rumors indicated that someone with a significantly larger portion of Vivian Maier’s work had disappeared from Chicago along with his part of the Vivian Maier collection. Mystery and intrigue soon followed.
Later spring 2010, I was notified that this mysterious buyer had reappeared. A meeting was arranged, and I acquired his portion of the Vivian Maier collection. The Jeffrey Goldstein collection (Vivian Maier Prints Inc.) has grown to include 19,000 negatives, 1,000 prints, 30 homemade movies, and numerous slides. They document Vivian Maier’s European years prior to her early 1950s stay in New York continuing through her Chicago years from 1955 into the early 1970s.
Distinctly solitary and driven by private motivations, Vivian Maier was a natural-born photographer who captured extraordinary images of her subjects and, in doing so, revealed the essence of Americana. Vivian Maier was childless herself but worked for many years as a nanny (seemingly a guise affording her the basics: food, clothing, shelter and TIME in order for her to pursue photography), a profession that allowed her to document the complex beauty of domesticity. Her photographs demonstrate an intimate exploration of family life, as well as her seemingly allegorical views of “home”—a space sometimes idyllic and whole, and sometimes troubled—as in her photographs of homes destroyed by tornadoes or street riots.
The present collection bears witness to her sophisticated and expansive approach to locations and subject matter. Both intimate and grand, her photographs include poignant self-portraits in an expressive array of street subjects, ranging from unknown people to the renowned likes of Salvador Dali and Richard Nixon. Vivian Maier photographed the exhilaration of life’s celebrations, found in parades and parties. In addition she captured moments of conflict, social inequality, and turmoil. Her curiosity and picture snapping extended far beyond her travels in Europe and the United States. A lone explorer, Vivian Maier photo-documented her travels through Africa, Asia, and South America creating a visual diary of her curious observations.
Looking through the richly varied subject matter of her work affords us an intimate view of Vivian Maier, the obscure, the self-assured, and the photographer extraordinaire. - Jeffrey Goldstein