Fresh Eyes: Looking at Vivian Maier


Guest Post By Kait Kucy

I still remember when I first read about the photographer Vivian Maier. It was prior to the release of Finding Vivian Maier, the 2014 documentary film about the nanny-by-day and prolific documentarian of everyday life, also by-day.

I was still experiencing the inspiring after-effects of the touching Bill Cunningham, New York documentary from 2011, when I read about how Maier’s treasure trove of photographs, rolls of film and Super-8 films that had been discovered in some blind auction purchases. Like Cunningham, Maier was an avid explorer of city life; a street photographer discovering and documenting flashes in time. Her apparent knack for encapsulating what the streets of New York City and Chicago felt like in those moments is apparent in the hundreds upon hundreds of images that exist in her photographic legacy.

Unlike Cunningham, who was employed by the New York Times, Maier’s story and work has only been consumed by the public posthumously. It is unclear if she ever intended for others to discover her tireless passion. And if not, the discovery has posed a multi-faceted question (perhaps a query all artists must ponder themselves): “What were the photographs for?”

To view photographs such as these in a museum context is such a rare pleasure. The Vivian Maier: In Her Own Hands exhibition is an exciting exploration of street photography and the notion of the everyday photographer — a concept that our Instagram-loving North American culture is well-versed in. I love seeing recognition for photography in a fine art setting, let alone photography that was not even intended for a fine art audience, at that. Maier’s photographs evoke so much emotion: happiness, sadness, loneliness, exhaustion — roving through the cities she was able to capture such a raw depiction of the human experience.

Studying these images at the Glenbow, it is humbling how adeptly she won the trust of her subjects. We see people for who they truly are. Skilled in an unassuming way, her ability to cast her lens on a person’s inner self is expertly captured in these fleeting shot-from-the-hip moments.  Her portraits of children most aptly show this expertise — no surprise considering her role as a caregiver — but the way she poignantly portrays the experience of youth is remarkable.

When viewing the Vivian Maier: In Her Own Hands exhibition, I hope you’ll study those faces and streetscapes and analyze the depth, the compositions and the intentions behind these photographs. Perhaps you’ll compare them to your own daily documentation of life and ask yourself “Why?” and “For whom?”.

Vivian Maier: In Her Own Hands runs Feb 8 – May 24, 2020 at Glenbow.

Kait Kucy is a well-known local writer, blogger and active social media personality. Kucy’s byline has appeared in publications such Avenue and Dote, and she has appeared on CTV, Global and CityTV as a segment guest.

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