The story of Vivian Maier is an oft-told one: In 2007, while hunting for historic photos of Chicago’s Northwest side for a book he was putting together, John Maloof bought a box of negatives at a local auction house. Realizing he had a massive cache of extraordinary street photographs on his hands—a slice of Chicagoan life from the 1950s through the ’70s—Maloof, who is a historic preservationist, began to do his research, coming to the conclusion that the photographer was an unknown nanny who happened to be a prolific photographer. In 2009, a few months after her death, he put 200 images on the photo-sharing website Flickr, and viewers responded with fervor.
Though Maier (who cared for Phil Donahue’s four sons for a year) never showed her pictures to anyone, critics began to recognize her work as a legitimate addition to the American street photography canon. Photographer Mary Ellen Mark compared her to Robert Frank, Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, and Diane Arbus. The Wall Street Journal’s William Meyers noted that her use of a medium-format Rolleiflex (as opposed to a 35 mm camera) gave her pictures details and clarity unseen by many street photographers of the time, comparing her favorably to Weegee, Gary Winogrand, and Harry Callahan.
Five separate books, as well as the 2013 documentary Finding Vivian Maier, sealed her fate as a major figure in American photography. John Maloof owns many of these images—approximately 90 percent of her work—calling her legacy the Maloof Collection. At KP Projects/MKG Gallery, a selection of images from the Maloof Collection will be on view, from 1241, Father and children rollerskating on sidewalk (2012) to 75-04, c. 1954 (2015), an image of two young black girls in patterned dresses eating popsicles. Among the images are noir-ish night shots, carefully arranged portraits, and architectural shots that look as composed as a fashion shoot.
Maier’s talent and story are singular, and the exhibition at KP Projects/MKG is a rare view at a small sample of her work, as Maloof tries new and different ways to present Maier and contextualize her long, strange career.
“Vivian Maier: Photographs from the Maloof Collection” is on view at KP Projects/MKG, Los Angeles, Dec. 12, 2015–Feb. 27, 2016.
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