After vilifying Finding Vivian Maier and its charlatan director/producer/star – I turn to the more enjoyable matter of her photography. Vivian Maier was a pure street photographer. Documenting the American city throughout her life, her anthropologist’s eye treated all human urban street life as one, from socialites in furs to drinkers, children, old people, labourers and everyone in between. The fixed gaze of her motionless images captures people not as faceless masses or social types, but unique individuals.
Her portraits of African-Americans stand out for me. At a time when black people were second-class citizens by law, many of her shots of young men and women radiate beauty, dignity and warmth.
And this deserves ‘iconic image’ status: 1950s America defined in a moment. No comment needed.
Vivian Maier makes me look at the world differently, as any artist should. I try to observe more. I look at people’s faces more and wonder about their worlds. I notice urban oddities and curious juxtapositions. And most of all, I notice reflections. I’ve been conscious lately of how the urban environment is largely reflections and manipulated images, the city street as a hall of mirrors. The ambient illusory unreality bothers me, aesthetically and politically, but applying a Vivian Maier gaze, I can enjoy playing with the shifting multi-layered planes and strange compositions.
Sometimes exceptional art can be dispiriting, as in ‘What’s the point in doing anything, when I’ll never create anything anywhere near as good as this?’ Vivian Maier has the opposite effect; her art makes me want to grab my camera and go out and roam the streets. A true inspiration.