The Vivian Maier exhibition, presented by the Parisian Luxembourg museum until January 16, 2022, is a pure marvel.

The beauty of the photographic work on display is indisputable, but above all the humanity that emerges from it is incredible. Vivian Maier is a talented photographer and she never knew.

The story of the photographic collection offered by the Luxembourg museum is incredible, and the life of Vivian Maier, improbable.

We have to talk here about John Maloof, a young American collector from Chicago, who in 2005 began writing a book on Chicago, where he just bought his first house. In search of old pictures that could illustrate his book, he bought at auction several boxes containing undeveloped negatives. He didn’t know it yet, but the boxes contained the photographic works of Vivian Maier. He didn’t know it yet, but John Maloof just met his destiny.

Dazzled by the quality of the photographic works discovered, he conducted an investigation in order to identify their author. It was quite a challenge since Vivian Maier (1926-2009) has been a nanny for most of her life.

What do we know about Vivian Maier? Passionate about photography since her adolescence, she purchases in 1952 an excellent camera, a Rolleiflex. She is of French origin through her mother and makes several trips to France. Moreover, her travels are not limited to France, as she travels alone to Canada, Egypt, Yemen and Italy.

When she is 30, she arrives from New York to Chicago and works for 17 years with the Gensburg family, where she looks after the three boys who adore her. She has, within the family home, a bedroom and a personal bathroom where she develops some of her shots.

When she leaves Gensburg, whose children have grown up, she works from family to family, switches to color photography and uses other cameras, including a Kodak and a Leica. However, it is also from her departure from the Gensburg family that she no longer develops her negatives, since it is quite expensive.

As old age comes, financial difficulties increase. Although the Gensburg sons take care of Vivian Maier, the arrears of her storage accumulated and her entire life – her papers, personal belongings, boxes of photographic negatives and cameras – was auctioned in 2007.  It is the content of this storage box that Randy Prow, Ron Slattery and John Maloof discover by acquiring it.

John Maloof has since worked to keep alive the legacy of Vivian Maier, who took nearly 120,000 street shots.

The question of the maternity of the work presented to the public today obviously arises. Because it was not Vivian Maier herself who selected and reframed the photographs on display. She never talked about her photographic work, never showed the pictures she took.

However, we know that she was aware of the artistic quality of her work. It must be said that this quality is undeniable: her shots, beyond pure aesthetic beauty, say a lot about humanity, urban loneliness and human dignity.

December 29, 2021