The gift of Vivian Maier

by Stefania Bufano

by Stefania Bufano

To demonstrate that in the world there are people who work with passion to their art, without the craving for instant recognition and are able to remain so concentrated, day after day, month after month, year after year, in their pure research and between, very often, to material difficulties or obvious social disadvantages that do not allow to reach, in life, nor a material tranquility, nor a deserved success, there is a street photographer Vivian Maier.

Born in New York in 1926, lived as a child in France, returned to the U.S. with her mother, and after the early years of life without her father, she had to fend for life doing a job as a babysitter, it is supposed in some way having to give up to her passion, according to the more or less unfortunate vicissitudes. In some way: given the incredible amount, qualitative and quantitative, of her photographic archive.

Little is known yet about her and her life, even if as a result of its “discovery” by merit – and fortune – by John Maloof (unfortunately discovered almost simultaneously with the death, in 2009, of the photographer, which Maloof, he set about her tracks, he came to the obituary) it quickly started to talk about it, because she was a great photographer, but you can easily deduce that in the years when she was printing not even her photographs, limited herself only to the shots, it should be in a difficult time regarding the “make ends meet”, or indulge in the “luxuries”. Snapped, “saw” her photographs outside and inside the photographic objective, but the majority of them she did not see ever printed, nor exposed, recognized and shared.

Everyone, when you stand in front of an unknown talent in life, with very few elements still to reconstruct the biography, it is more fascinated, tends to raise questions and to formulate hypotheses. Why, for example, she did not try to “sell” her photographs, when she was forced, in fact, to live very modestly and finally, now elderly, to die in poverty, having indeed to “sell off” her possessions for a handful of dollars, as you might with things of little value?

This, among the many questions that may arise, meeting the wonderful and simple story of Vivian Maier, would seem to be the most widespread and obvious, especially in a Western world dominated by money God, selfishness, competition, the “professionalism recognized” and by the lack of love for what we do.

Very few we believe who are now part of this Western world, “rich” and “evolved”, may include naturalness, love, authenticity of certain persons who, not surprisingly, often end up being (considered) “eccentric” and to make strange paths, often in total solitude, perhaps, who knows, to avoid intransigent “criticisms” about what you should or should not do, or “encouragements” to monetize as soon as possible… Having long been subtly thrown in the majority that if you do well a thing should therefore be paid, and therefore recognized that only this is equivalent to existing, only becomes automatic in the thought in the same conformed majority that we can not do it, and well, to do it in any case.

And here certainly we don’t want to encourage the exploitation of the artists (as any other human being), already heavily exploited and often starved in History, but only highlight the current paradoxical reversal, so if I sell valgus, and until I do not sell, I do not produce (= do not create, I’m not doing anything, I do not exist), which is a fake almost total: if some, and unfortunately happens, interrupt their art for lack of income or other difficulties, many others continue anyway.

The reality is that there is no single model for to be an artist, and that the only true constant is work and love for what we do. The purity, if it still exists somewhere, it is only in children and in those who have the same attitude, the same concentration and resists only in a few artists who do not follow any “trend”, no “market”, no any “study at the table of what could have success”. Softly, remind us you that it’s the artist, if anything, who studies what may seem to have sense, who creates, who invents a “trend” that possibly others, and the market, will follow, and not vice versa. And that every dictatorship, softly again, starting from that of the market today that all dictatorships wins, go to the devil.

We could even say controversially that judging by what has “success” in the Western world today, will be good in a certain way not to be recognized, not apparently exist, to have any chance not to lose along the way, the sense of our own, very personal, exciting research.

So, in a world always less human, in the sense of always less authentically human and vice versa increasingly fictitious, Orwellian, so devoid of ideas that enlighten and enrich, or rather try to filter these to the fullest, with scientific malignancy (typical of those who are against the life and freedom of expression), until they disappear for the “success” of above enormity of useless things to a mass which you want always more shapeless and stupid, some rich people insist, even having a very modest life, to create and donate.

Vivian Maier went straight to her own way and in her research. In her free time from her job, here it is in her real work, with her camera around her neck that snaps, without being able to see the results, printed, of her work, but seeing them very well, in her eyes.

Now, only those who did not become completely stupid in the idea of “profit” at all costs (which would be equivalent, as a Law, to “to be”, or “really worth” or “deserve” a higher existence of “success and happiness”) in the cynicism and total existential vacuum coated of apparent beauty, can, and should, thanks to her for all that with sacrifice she must have done and for all that to the world she has given.


To see her is a Picture –
To hear her is a Tune –
To know her an Intemperance
As innocent as June –
To know her not – Affliction –
To own her for a Friend
A warmth as near as if the Sun
Were shining in your Hand.

Emily Dickinson

The original article in Italian: Il dono di Vivian Maier
(Translated by Stefania Bufano, English revision by Laura Petrescu)

Internet sources (some Italian articles): Vivian, mistero glorioso; La nanny fotografa: Vivian Maier; L’occhio di Vivian, la bambinaia rivela la triste America di strada; Vivian Maier.


Wikipedia, Vivian Maier

The official website