Diane Arbus said, “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know.” The odyssey of Vivian Maier is proving to be further proof of this. Discovered accidentally in 2007 by Chicago historian and collector John Maloof, the street work of the as-yet unknown nanny rippled quickly through the world of photography. Maier’s talent and the clarity of her vision drew instant admiration. The number of photographs she had taken (more than 150,000 negatives have been found) and then meticulously hidden from all those who had known her endowed her with a near mythical status. The forthcoming book, Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits, to be released this October 29 by powerHouse, concurrent with the release of the documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier, directed by Mr. Maloof and Charlie Siskel, would seem to offer answers to the many questions surrounding Ms. Maier’s legacy. On the contrary, however, it seems that the deeper one delves into her life, the more enigmatic and mysterious she becomes.
Elizabeth Avedon: As you reconstructed her story through your film and upcoming book, what is most important about Vivian Maier’s work for you?
John Maloof: One of the things that fascinated me early on was the fact that Maier was shooting photos prolifically while she had a career as a nanny and, at the same time, didn't show her work to anyone for feedback. So, to me, this is the mark of a true artist; someone who can create a large body of work by themselves as an expression of their true self and it speaks to all of us in our own way. That’s important. She didn't try to become famous, she didn't create images for others and she didn't see things that she knew others would appreciate. She saw the world in a personal, uninfluenced way, and her photos are a raw depiction of that world she saw. The photos are beautiful and important because, not only are they great images, they are not contrived.