Vivian Maier, Self-Portrait, Chicago, 1956, © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY. From the exhibition Vivian Maier: In her hands.

Calgary

It may seem strange that Vivian Maier was so obsessed with self-portraits.

Just over a decade ago, no one knew who Vivian Maier was and very few had seen her work. Now, her images are widely celebrated around the world. But the mysterious street photographer behind them remains largely unrecognizable, and the small one that has come together for her life suggests that she was a person of private determination. In fact, she spent the last years of her life as a poor rage and died alone in a nursing home in 2009.

So why would such a person be obsessed with recording so many images of themselves?

Vivian Maier, Chicago, 1978 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY. From the exhibition Vivian Maier: In her hands.

Calgary

“Yes, it was very private,” says Anne Morin, curator of the Vivian Maier exhibition: In her hands. “She has never had very developed relationships. She was the daughter of immigrants. I really think she needed her relationship with the world to get through photography. She was invisible, she was from the lowest level of society. She had no home or home. She was someone who probably wasn’t of interest to anyone and she probably didn’t have access to her identity. I really think the fact that she took so many self-portraits of herself was, in a way, an affirmation that she was at that time and place. Every photographer is a witness that she was there. In a way, she needed to rebuild that identity she never had access to. “

This is just speculation, of course. While the photographer left behind a mountain of work to offer hints in her psychological makeup, the reality is that few people paid enough attention to Maier when she was alive to develop any real concrete theory as to why she did what she did. or lived as he lived.

Vivian Maier, May 16, 1957 © The Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY. From the exhibition Vivian Maier: In her hands.

Calgary

Still, Morin is as much authority as anyone to speculate. Since 2011, she has been instrumental in presenting Maier’s work to the mass by curating shows across Europe and North America. This includes Vivian Maier: In Her Hands, an exhibition traveling to Calgary’s Glenbow Museum for its Canadian debut Feb. 8 in collaboration with the Exhibition Photography Festival.

Extensive shots of the photographer’s biography were revealed in the 2013 Oscar-nominated documentary Finding Vivian Maier, a captivating John Maloof and Charlie Siskel film that chronicled the rise of the photographer’s aliens-that-thrills from a complete sensation of unknown in the world after art. She left behind a good deal of material to speculate, amassing 100,000 negatives and 8 MM films left in a storage closet she could no longer afford to keep. It proved to be a treasure unknown to the world, until Maloof discovered it at a local auction house in Chicago in 2007. More than 100 photographs displayed at the Glenbow exhibition all came from underdeveloped flip flops that would to say that they were images that the artist himself would never have seen. Headquartered in New York and New York, Maier earned a modest living as a nanny but operated more or less secretly as a photographer, snatching thousands and thousands of images – though rarely more than one frame each – as she traveled the city streets with her new charges. While she took in street views and skyscrapers, much of her work involved capturing the daily lives of people in the city in the 50s, 60s and 70s. While in her hands includes an image of Kirk Douglas arriving at the Spartak premiere in New York, most of the people she chronicled were not movie stars. They were children, women, the elderly and the working classes. Given that she was also obsessed with images of herself, it is not at all difficult to assume that Maier felt a kinship with her vulnerable subjects.

Vivian Maier, Self-Portrait, New York, 1954 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY. From the exhibition Vivian Maier: In her hands.

© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collectio

“I don’t think there is any other photographer in the history of photography who has developed such an interesting work as a way to represent (he or she himself),” says Morin.

“Then with the street scenes, which is the main theater where Vivian Maier is photographing, what is interesting is the story, the little stories she is photographing and revealing very interesting details: some heads, a hat, the way someone is dressed or You have a lot of portraits on these streets that are of people who were like her: invisible people and people we don’t care about, people we don’t care about, and people who are out of the world. is letting faculty get into history. In a way, she’s taking on a role as an anthropologist. “

Since Maier’s work was accidentally discovered just over a decade ago, she has become a well-known posthumous character and subject of study, with numerous books and exhibitions focused on her work in the past decade.

“In a way, it’s beautiful that this woman who never existed and never ended her life properly, we are giving her a beautiful life after her death,” Morin says. “So many people project themselves on her. That’s why she’s getting so powerful now. She’s got a lot of visibility.”

Vivian Maier: In her hands it opens February 8th and runs through May 24th.