Akin to the work of many other celebrated artists in history, the extensive photographic archives of the late Vivian Maier did not reach the masses during her lifetime. The poverty stricken street photographer made her living as a nanny in between brief sojourns across the globe. Maier, who tirelessly captured images with her Rolleiflex, had secretly stashed the thousands of negatives in a storage locker.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Maier’s images, and talent, were discovered. At a thrift auction house on Chicago’s Northwest Side, photographer John Maloof stumbled upon the vast hoard of photo negatives and brought them to the forefront. Now, with 90 percent of Maier’s archive reconstructed, Maloof is seeing that her work is archived to be appreciated by generations to come.
Not long after this initial discovery, British actor Tim Roth came across both Vivian Maier and John Maloof on Kickstarter, an online pledge system developed to fund creative projects. Now, three years after Maier’s death in 2009, Roth is behind the very first comprehensive exhibition of her work at Merry Karnowsky Gallery in Los Angeles. BULLETT talked to Roth about the power of Maier’s lens and got quotes to accompany Maloof and Roth’s favorite photos.
BULLETT: What makes Vivian Maier such a great photographer?
Roth: Timing is everything, and Maier’s ability to manipulate the camera is exceptional. She never even bothered to develop her photos, and she is always fairly accurate, in her manipulation of the frame. She was a big movie fan which I think made her very aware of composition. Her self-portraits were very straight-on. This is a great artist at work.
Do you think her photos took a side?
The photos were taken with the poor and sometimes have a feeling of ‘the poor against the rich.’ You can definitely see what side she fell on.
How does Maier’s photography differ from digital photography of today?
There’s a laziness that’s now started with digital photos. With Vivian, she had twelve frames. and she didn’t know what she was getting, and oftentimes, she was being very careful. There’s no re-cropping.
Do you think her photos took a side?
Many photos were taken of the poor and sometimes they have almost a feeling of the poor against the rich. You can definitely see what side she fell on.
What initially drew her to you?
I read something about her it in the Guardian, I saw the pictures, and they were beautiful. It wasn’t really the mystery that surrounded her, like, why bother reading reviews of films? I looked at the pictures first and felt like I was discovering a huge chunk of history of various cities and populations.
How do you embark on curating a show of such magnitude?
It was really important that I went to Merry Karnowsky, because I like her gallery very much. I also went to her because I love the space that the gallery is housed in. Then we built it up. Merry and I sat down and looked through all of the photos, and then we both looked at them separately. It was a horrible process,really, because we just wanted them all! We worked out how many we wanted, because, as I said, we wanted them all. We then had to sit together and make brutal cuts. We made a rule that you couldn’t look backwards, and once you made a cut, you couldn’t take it out. So we started with a large number. There are some images that are also in John Maloof’s book Vivian Maier: Street Photographer but it also turns out that there’s a lot of “new” stuff that hasn’t been seen. There’s over one hundred plus images in the gallery show, there’s even a color image.
We’re working on something new, where there’s audio of her talking about the photography she took.
‘Vivian Maier: A Life Discovered’ will open Saturday, January 7th and will feature many of her original vintage photos, a book release and also previously unseen home documentaries and audio recordings.