Vivian Maier was a stealthy street-camera recon patrol (S&R Honors)

Unknown, unpublished in life, photography icon is now enjoying a post-mortem renaissance…

Vivian Maier shot up the streets of Chicago,

but no one ever called the police nor filed any kind of report.

She was a stealthy-ninja-street-photographer-monochrome-negative hero.

And her only crime is that nobody ever knew.

Self portrait courtesy of Maloof Collection

The media did not take note,

the North Shore intelligentsia kept sipping their tea

while Vivian raised their wealthy issue and chopped Planet Chicago

into discreet pictorial chunks of fresh sidewalk life and a beauty in people

her employers never took time to see.

And many years later Jesus wept

when Vivian Maier passed away through no fault of her own.

Death defeated her but did not abandon her.

I knew her in her street-nanny days, as one often imagines one did,

and she was tougher than Superman’s codpiece,

more egalitarian than an abolitionist Oklahoma prairie judge after the Civil War.

Self portrait courtesy of Maloof Collection

And she used to tell me, as I often imagine she did:

“People are just different stages of children

who we must develop, nurture, and make an effort to see.”

And she was right, by god, as right as Christ was about Judas.

As Vivian Maier moved all those years in Chicago streets,

more invisible and all-seeing than the most skilled Navy SEAL,

she was making of herself

a champion of humans and their mechanical eyes.

She was making of herself

a gentle, compassionate archivist for the coming thousand years.

She was by turns nurturing and harsh

to her wealthy child charges,

but she loved the street world those kids would inherit

and rule with oblivious glee.

No one ruled Vivian.

She took their paychecks and ran

to low-hanging New York sidewalks

and Chicago’s African-American fire hydrant summers,

to places her employers would never go,

to where life is most important,

to where life is the most human,

to where life really exists in its most everlasting form.

(Learn more about Vivian Maier here. See my photographic work here, here and here.)


4 replies »

  1. Well done. Can I have her Rolleiflex? When I was a kid, I lusted after that camera, but had to settle for a Yashica D.

    • Thanks, Doc. Never owned nor used a TLR myself, though the basic design has huge advantages for sly street photography. Owned a 4×5 bellows camera when I briefly studied at Brooks a million years ago in Santa Barbara, but I hated that camera and its numerous limitations.

    • Excellent point. If her work had been discarded with the trash, we’d have never known and the world would have been poorer for it.