The Vivian Connection

Thanks to the exemplary blog Messy Nessy Chic, I was just introduced to the photographs of Vivian Maier. Vivian was a previously “unknown” photographer who shot over 100,000 images mostly with her Rolleiflex camera.


What is unique about Vivian Maier is that she was an amateur photographer who worked predominately as a nanny in Chicago for over 40 years. Apparently she shot on the streets in all of her free time, was very private and did not process the majority of the film she shot. Her work was discovered by accident by when a lot of 30,000 of her prints and negatives came up for auction. They were from a storage locker whose contents were sold when Maier could no longer pay its fees.

Vivian Maier had an innate sense of composition and judging by her output, a love for observation and the process of capturing images.


A feature documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, about the photographer and the discovery of her images, has been making the festival rounds. It was directed by John Maloof, who purchased the lot of 30,000 images and Charlie Siskel, one of the producers of Bowling for Columbine.

Reading about Vivian Maier, I was immediately struck by coincidences to the circumstances of another prolific “unknown” artist, Henry Darger.

Untitled Works By Henry Darger

Henry Darger was a reclusive Chicago janitor who has posthumously become one of the world’s most celebrated outsider artists due to his 15,145 page illustrated magnum opus, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. Darger’s work was discovered accidentally by his landlords shortly before Darger’s death.

Of course, there is also a documentary about the discovery and work of Darger, entitled In the Realms of the Unreal. You can watch the complete film via Youtube.

Two “secret” artists both working predominantly in Chicago. (Maier lived in France and New York before moving to Chicago in 1956.) Prodigious output. Discovery barely before death, but acclaim, and presumably reward for the “discoverers”, after. And finally the name, Vivian.

Strange, beautiful yet sad parallels.


Vivian Maier images from The Maloof Collection.



  1. Hi Gretchen I went to high school with Jessica Yu who created the Darger film and actually arranged a screening once here in Palo Alto of her first big film. My thinking about Vivian Maier movie I just saw led me to your site and essay.

    I wrote a longer reaction on my wordpress blog.

    I liked the film and am excited to see more of Vivian’s work but am not sure I am buying Maloof’s story on how this went down. I am reading accounts of her work before the film was made.

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