The University of Chicago Library has acquired over 2,700 prints by American street photographer Vivian Maier
, most of which have never been published or displayed before. The gift includes over 1,200 black-and-white and 1,400 color prints, which Maier made herself or directed someone else to print, giving researchers a unique look into her creative process.
Library director Brenda L. Johnson said the university now has the largest collection of Maier photographs held by any museum or library, and the only large collection of Maier’s photographs open to researchers. Laura Letinsky
, a photographer who teaches in the Department of Visual Arts, said the breadth of the collection will allow students to understand how much commitment photography requires, and how the medium as a whole has evolved since the mid-20th century.
Maier was born in New York City in 1926, but spent most of her life as a nanny in Chicago to support her photography. In her free time, she practiced street photography in both cities in a career spanning over five decades, taking pictures of historic monuments set to be demolished, impoverished groups of people, and other snapshots of American life. Her work also highlights her prolific travels to places like Malaysia, France, and the Philippines.
She only garnered fame after her death in 2009; although six photography books and two biographies have been published about her, much of her work remains unknown. A show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery
last year highlighted Maier’s little known color photographs. The show was later brought to Photo London, where Maier’s works sold for $5,000 to $6,500. It is unlikely that Maier showed her work to many people while she was alive.
Collector John Maloof found the photographs after he purchased storage lockers for $380 from an auction house in 2007. Inside was 90 percent of Maier’s life work, including negatives, prints, audio recordings, and film. He depicted the process of finding the collection and of Maier’s life in the Academy Award-nominated 2013 documentary Finding Vivian Maier, which he co-wrote and co-directed. Maloof previously donated 500 Maier prints to the UChicago Library in 2017.