Study the Masters: Vivian Maier

In Study the Masters by David7 Comments


Unless you’ve been hiding in a cabin in the woods, there’s a better than none chance that you’ve heard about Vivian Maier (1926-2009), the reclusive nanny who lived and worked – and photographed – in Chicago for most of her adult life. Her work never saw the light of day until discovered serendipitously by a collector, John Maloof, when he bought some 100,000 of her images, many of them still undeveloped, at an auction. Since then word of Maier’s odd life has circulated almost as quickly as word of her beautiful work, which in her lifetime not only avoided fame, but avoided being seen at all.

I include Maier here in the Study the Masters series for a couple reasons. The first being the quality of her work, which is stunning, and completely lacking in pretense, which is a refreshing side-effect of creating art only for ourselves. Being discovered post-humously doesn’t detract from her well-deserved status as a master of this medium.  The second reason is related, and falls close to my usual sermons about the near-complete irrelevance of the dividing line between professional and amateur when it comes to creating our work. Maier used a twin-lens reflex camera for most of her work, a boxy thing with an average lens, worked as a nanny, and never showed her work. She did it for her own reasons. She was not a “professional.” And despite all this -perhaps because of it – she created an astonishing, authentic, beautiful body of work. We should all be so lucky.

You can read more about Maier on Wikipedia, or see more of her work at but to best appreciate it, consider getting your hands on either Vivian Maier: Street Photographer or Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found (pre-order only. Due out Oct.2014)



  1. WOW ,! What a story. What pictures. On many levels both inspiring and depressing. I will definetly keep my eye out for the film and books. Kudos to the three boys she raised who supported her in her old age.

  2. Truly an amazing photographer. If you can, try to find and watch the documentary out now called Finding Vivian Maier by the guy who purchased her negatives and rolls of film during an auction of the contents of her storage unit.

  3. Hey David,

    She is very talented indeed! The way she captured you on the beach with your flannel and fedora is just priceless.



  4. Wow! Thank you David, for bringing the name and work of this photographer to my attention – I’ve never heard the name before. Totally amazing images. Good for me it’s almost weekend – I’ll have some time to go through all of those portfolios 🙂

  5. David,
    I have really been enjoying your series, and am glad you included Miss Maier, who must be the patron saint of those who photograph for themselves only. This has to be the root of it all, even if we go ahead later to do more with it.
    “Bless me St. Vivan, for I have chimped.”

    – Marke

  6. She is truly an inspiration. I agree with you… her images are unpretentious, touching and beautiful. If only she were alive to know how much her work is appreciated by those who have viewed them

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