On the evening of Friday, January 7th, the first American exhibition of Vivian Maier’s photography opened at the Chicago Cultural Center. If you don’t recognize that name, it’s no big surprise: she was an amateur street photographer whose work went largely unseen until it was serendipitously discovered after her death. After a 26 year-old Chicago resident purchased boxes of her negatives at an estate sale a couple of years ago, he began scanning them into his computer and it became clear he had stumbled upon something special. What emerged out of the thousands of photos in the collection is a stunning look at life in Chicago (and various other locales) over several decades by an untrained yet remarkable eye.
The collection currently on display at the Cultural Center is comprised of only 80 photos – just a fraction of the 100,000+ contained in the negatives, many of which have yet to be scanned – yet it contains a great sampling of her range of subjects. There are photos of landscapes, a small selection of color prints, travels to other cities and countries, but most effective are the shots of people going about their daily lives in the city. It is these photos which inspire the most visceral response, inviting comparisons to Walker Evans and Dorthea Lange. Also on display are a selection of the camera and film rolls Maier used in her work and a few personal items, such as hats and letters. On the whole, it creates a captivating taste of a bygone era.
The opening reception was quite well attended, with a large crowd circling the two rooms displaying Maier’s work. A broad demographic range of visitors were present, as 20something hipsters to middle aged society types and everyone in between paid homage to this amazing, but unheralded artist.
Admission to the Chicago Cultural Center is free and the exhibit runs through April 3rd, so it is well worth checking out for anyone who happens to be in the Chicago area. Hopefully this will be the first of many public displays of Maier’s work, and the beginning of much greater renown for her estimable talents.
Special Thanks to our friend Aaron Maurer for covering this event.