Maier_038, 5/3/13, 6:43 PM, 16C, 5732×6036 (154+883), 100%, Custom, 1/60 s, R43.0, G14.7, B28.4

A Vivian Maier Primer


By Zoltan Varadi

When Vivian Maier’s cache of photographs was discovered in 2007, a door was opened onto a fascinating art world mystery that has continued to twist and evolve, unspooling new threads even now, well over a decade later.

Beyond the core story Vivian Maier was an extremely private woman who shot thousands of masterful photographs which she never shared with anyone in her lifetime – there is ongoing debate that questions how her narrative has been shaped. The ownership of and rights to Maier’s work has been litigated in the courts and debated in the pages of renowned publications. Hitherto unknown collectors and heirs have emerged claiming their own pieces of the puzzle, while authors and investigative reporters have attempted to shed more light and give a more fully developed understanding of a once anonymous person.

In anticipation of the exhibition Vivian Maier: In Her Own Hands, which opens at Glenbow on February 8, 2020, we’ve compiled a sampling of Maier media coverage to bring you up to speed.


Although her photographs first came to light in 2007, arguably the phenomenon of Vivian Maier only kicked into high gear following the release of the Academy Award-nominated film Finding Vivian Maier. This positive 2014 movie review from the Los Angeles Times is a good place to start as it neatly encapsulates the story behind the Maier mystery and introduces John Maloof, the collector who inadvertently discovered the elusive photographer’s work at an auction and who went on to co-direct the movie. (Note: Glenbow’s upcoming Maier exhibition is drawn from the Maloof collection.)


Finding Vivian Maier raised as many questions about the extremely private photographer as it answered. The following two-part story in the New York Times from 2016 looked into the efforts of researcher Ann Marks to find out more. It’s a fascinating read. Part One & Part Two


While Finding Vivian Maier was generally met with positive reviews, the favourable consesus wasn’t quite unanimous. This New Yorker piece was critical of how the story had been told and argued that its perspective was a distorted one.


As the collectors who discovered Maier’s photographs began to exhibit her work, the stage was set for a series of legal battles over who ultimately benefits from posthumous legacy. Artsy breaks down the issues at stake and explains the difference between ownership and copyright.


Finally, while John Maloof has certainly become the best known collector of Maier’s work, there are others with substantial Maier collections. Hyperallergic interviewed one of those individuals.

Vivian Maier: In Her Own Hands Opens February 8, 2020 at Glenbow. And, yes, we will be showing Finding Vivian Maier in conjunction with the exhibition — stay tuned for details.

Top image credit: Vivian Maier, Self-Portrait, Chicago, 1956, © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY

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