'Finding Vivian Maier' Turns The Lens On Enigmatic Photographer's Secret Life

Vivian Maier is proof that the art world is no exception when it comes to falling in love with a good mystery.

Both Maier's life and work are the subject of a new documentary opening in the U.S. on Friday; the very next day, Chicago's Harold Washington Library unveils a new exhibition of photographs of the city she secretly chronicled for decades.

The documentaries and exhibitions represent an ironic twist in the story of "Vivian Maier": Though the enigmatic and reclusive artist and nanny never publicly exhibited or shared her work, she posthumously captivated the art world after Chicago real estate agent John Maloof accidentally discovered a trove of her undeveloped negatives at a 2007 auction.

That real estate agent -- now Maier's de facto archivist -- recently discussed the discovery with HuffPost Live:

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The fascination with Maier has as much to do with her unknowable personal life that has been mined for odd details -- she reportedly used a fake French accent, never married and never showed her work -- as it does her unique and empathetic view on Chicago's seedier side. As a photographer, Maier was also astonishingly ahead of the curve regarding popular photographic trends like street photography and "selfies."

"She was taking selfies before they were cool," MaryBeth Kraft, a public relations representative for the Chicago Public Library told HuffPost on the eve of the exhibition opening. "Half of her rolls of film were self-portraits."

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The CPL exhibit is putting more than 50 silver gelatin prints culled from the 2012 book "Vivian Maier: Out Of The Shadows" on display, free to the public.

The exhibit from the CPL's special collections covers Maier's street photography and self-portraits from the 1950s to the 1970s.

"So many of her photos document Chicago through her street photography, and [the CPL's Special Collections] is all about preserving Chicago history," Kraft told HuffPost. According to a release from the CPL:

The exhibition presents Maier’s journeys from the pastures of rural France to the streets of Chicago. Maier’s unique ability to brilliantly capture the ideas and spirit of the period of the 1950s to the 1970s are particularly apparent in shots of Chicago’s famous Maxwell Street and protest scenes shot during the social unrest of 1968.

Kraft said a live-feed of street photography from everyday Chicagoans will be streamed as part of Maier's exhibition.

"As an artist, getting closer to her helps kind of write her story since we can't talk to her," Kraft said "We're also having people caption her photos since most were untitled since they were undeveloped."


“Vivian’s photographs tell her life story,” "Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows" co-author Michael Williams told the CPL. “She was way ahead of her time—recording what she saw on a daily basis with a joy and curiosity that makes her work so compelling.”

"Finding Vivian Maier" opens in L.A. and New York City March 28. The Chicago Public Library's exhibition runs March 29 to Sept. 28 in the Special Collections Exhibit Hall on the 9th floor of the Harold Washington Library Center. It will screen the BBC-produced "The Vivian Maier Mystery" on April 24 at 6 p.m. in the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, free.



Vivian Maier