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Vivian Maier: the nanny photographer who lived twice

Updated: 5 days ago

While working as a nanny, she took 150,000 photographs. She lived in absolute anonymity and only became famous and exhibited around the world after her death, thanks to a fortuitous find.



The story of Vivian Maier and how she moved up the ladder founding her place in history is just as amazing as her photographs. She worked as a professional nanny in New York and then in Chicago for more than 40 years, during which she secretly took more than 150,000 pictures from everyday life while walking around the streets with kids. Her whole existence was spent in anonymity until 2007 when Chicago real estate agent John Maloof discovered by chance her photographic works packed into some boxes and suitcases in a storage locker she used to stash her pictures when she was alive. It was a huge and impressive work what came into light, made up of over 120,000 negatives, super 8 and 16mm film, various sound recordings, some photographs and hundreds of undeveloped rolls of film. Her devouring hobby earned her a posthumous reputation as one of the most accomplished street photographers of all times.

Impressed by the works Mr Maloof found into the storage locker, he decided to reconstruct her life and investigate her personality. Thus he made a documentary film in 2013 entitled "Finding Vivian Maier" in which he tries to tell the life of the photographer through the witness of those who knew her, the families she had worked for and her friends. The movie received an Oscar nomination in 2015.


Street photography


Vivian Meier, Untitled, 1954

Armenian Woman Fighting, Lower East Side, NY, 1956

New York, NY, 1953

Untitled, date unknown

Untitled, 1956

Untitled, date unknown


Vivian Maier supported herself by working as a housekeeper in some families, always secretly continuing to photograph while working as a nanny. Her artistic career cannot be traced back to a specific artistic movement. She portrayed what seemed worthy of note, developing only part of the negatives, as if she wanted to keep the captured images for herself.

She's been capable of reproducing the emotional chronicle of everyday reality. The subjects of her pictures were people she met roaming around the cities, in the chaotic reality of life. She seemed to be attracted by the spontaneity coming from the road.

She took many photos during her travels around the world, with an amazed and intrigued gaze on contemporary society. She used to take self-portraits of herself on reflective surfaces, mirrors or shop windows, with the camera hung around her neck.




Florida, 1960


New York, NY, 1953

Untitled, 1953

New York, NY, date unknown

Untitled, 1954

Chicago, IL, 1956

Untitled, 1959

Since the discovery of her work, Maier’s photographs have been the subject of several publications and exhibited at major institutions throughout the world.



New York, NY, 1954

Untitled, date unknown

Untitled, date unknown

Self-portrait, date unknown

New York, NY, date unknown

New York, NY, date unknown


“I photographed the moments of your eternity, so that they would not be lost”.

- Vivian Maier




San Francisco, CA, 1955

Untitled, 1954

Untitled, 1953



Boy on Shore , 1965

New York, NY, ca. 1954

Chicago, June 19, 1961

Untitled, 1957

New York, NY, September 20, 1954

New York, NY, 1955

New York, NY, 1954



Looking closely at Vivian Maier's photos, the first thing you'll notice is the perspective which is always different. There's a reason for that: Vivian Maier didn't see most of the photos she took because most of the time she photographed holding her Rolliflex right in the center of her chest and focused staring at the subject with her eyes. That is why we have photos of Vivian Maier from bottom to top, top to bottom, frontal, sideways, three-quarters, and so on. Her aim was to be able to "read" every truth projected in front of her from the right perspective. This is what I call emotional intelligence as she could look at things even from perspectives which were not hers.





Self portraits


Why did a photographer as reserved as she was often feel the need to take a selfie? Unfortunately no one knows the answer.

























An exhibition dedicated to Vivian Maier entitled Vivian Maier. The Self-Portrait and its Double will take place at Magazzini della Corticella of Santa Maria della Scala in the city of Siena (Tuscany, Italy) until March the 16th 2023. Its aim is therefore to show the many facets of a photographer who is still shrouded in an aura of mystery. That's why the critics use to call her enigmatic. “The late discovery of Vivian Maier's work, which could have easily disappeared or even been destroyed, was almost a contradiction. It has led to a complete reversal of her fate because thanks to that find a simple nanny managed to later become Vivian Maier the photographer ” as Anne Morin, one of the curator of the exhibit, says.