Documentary: The Life and Work of Vivian Maier, the Unknown Nanny Photographer

Vivian Maier never saw much recognition for her work. When she passed away four years ago in 2009, her treasure trove of over 150,000 photographs had only just been discovered by accident, and didn’t begin receiving critical acclaim until after she had already passed.

Called a “poet of suburbia,” this nanny photographer — “Mary Poppins with a camera” — is now one of the most celebrated photographers of our time, and this hour-long BBC One documentary takes a closer look at her story.

Born in New York and raised in France, Maier returned to the United States in 1951, making her way to Chicago to work as a nanny in 1956. Throughout the 50s and 60s she photographed both on and off the streets of Chicago, capturing stunning street photos and portraits of suburban life — photographs she would never show anyone and often never even got developed.

Maier’s work first came to light once her massive archive of negatives was auctioned off because she couldn’t pay the fee for their storage locker anymore. That’s how John Maloof, a real estate agent and president of the Jefferson Park Historical Society in Chicago came in to the first 30,000 of her photos. His collection has since grown significantly, and he now owns 90% of Maier’s photographic legacy.

This documentary gives a wonderful overview of Maier’s life and work, telling as much of her life story as they could piece together by interviewing the people who knew her and adults who were her charges as children. The video at the top cuts off about 12 minutes short of the end, but you can watch the remainder of the documentary via the video above. And if you happen to live in the UK, you can watch the official BBC video by clicking this link.

To learn more about Maier and her story, check out our previous coverage on this amazing undiscovered photographer, and keep an eye out for another documentary called Finding Vivian Mayer, which is currently still in production.

(via Eric Kim and Reddit)

  • Andrew

    Not very impressive linking to someone who has not only nicked the documentary from the BBC with no rights to share it, but also managed to miss the last 12 minutes of it off. For UK people, the original is here for a little while:…_Summer_2013_Vivian_Maier_Who_Took_Nannys_Pictures/

  • fred

    you are always writing about copyright and photographers but when somebody is uploading a video that is obviously violating copyright you do not care? why, because when it is the big bbc, it is ok?

  • DLCade

    Thanks for sharing your concerns! We’re simply reporting on this documentary that’s available for viewing online. If that YouTube video we came across is something the BBC doesn’t like, they can easily have it removed, and it will stop being available on YouTube and on this page. If they’re fine with it and leave it up, then this fantastic documentary will continue to be available on YouTube in addition to that` BBC link we shared :)

  • Akaky

    Interesting, but Vivian Maier never saw much recognition for her work because she never showed her work to anyone, which will usually put a crimp in the recognition machine, and she was born in New York and lived in France as a child. I’m not sure how London got into the picture here.

  • DLCade

    Thank you for pointing that out! We’ve gone ahead and fixed the text :)

  • Mick O

    So should photographers be OK with people posting their photos and telling us “If you don’t approve of it, you can easily ask me to take it down” Seriously….

  • Charles mason

    what dlcade is saying is that this isn’t a case of hosting and publishing infringing content. The content was uploaded and hosted over on YouTube. This is simply an embed that’s out of petapixel’s control

  • RBM

    She was brilliant.
    The current leeches whoring out her work, competing with each other, and carrying guns and cash like her pictures are a load of drugs come across as little more than pimps.

  • Akaky

    RB, from what I’ve read about her I’m sure Maier would agree with you. On the other hand, without those leeches no one would have ever heard of her, which would have been a tragedy. Sometimes a ship has to sail, no matter how many barnacles are stuck to its keel.

  • hugh crawford

    That seems like stronger that necessary language, but I’ll put that up to you having strong feelings about what should be happening vs. what is happening.

    Sending it all to the landfill and forgetting about Vivian Maier seems to be the obvious but less desirable alternative given her brilliance.

    The only art that gets preserved is what people think is valuable, and what is valuable is often what is famous. It seems to me that the people who you disapprove of are doing exactly what is necessary to make Vivian Maier’s work well known, valuable, collected, preserved, and most importantly thought about.

    So, what would you do, or like to see done?

  • RBM

    I’m sure the premise that “without us they would have been lost” is their (or their sycophants) standard pat response.
    Despite the fact that it’s stating the patently obvious, the question isn’t whether they DID save it, it’s what they’re DOING with it.

    At some point the fact that Maier NEVER showed the work to anybody, and NEVER intended the work to be seen (let alone OWNED and marketed by a bunch of men) needs to be taken into account by somebody far more sensitive than the current “owners”.

    That sensitivity required to actually preserve and present the material far more closely to what the photographer may have approved of won’t be found outside someplace like the ICP, MOMA, or equivalent.

    If one steps back and observes the commercial element in all its glory, it’s all pretty sad actually……for photography, for the photographer, and for history.

    Her unbridled genius deserves so much more than she’s currently getting.

  • RBM

    I would like to see her work, essentially “her”, not OWNED by a couple of guys who have made a specific point of going out of their way to own as much of “her” as they could possibly get their hands on, and doing it before she cost more than they could afford…..for the express purpose of re-selling her (over, and over, and over again – it is photography after all) for money.

    I’d like to see the fact that this work was essentially stolen from her while she was still alive recognized openly by the current “owners”. I’d like to see these current owners do SOMETHING, ANYTHING, in Vivian’s memory other than more projects (like movies and books) designed to drive the price of her work even higher.

    I’d like to see an end to the overwhelming greed, and see her work start to move into various museums and places of repose for the ages.

    That’s what I’d like to see, for Vivian’s sake.

  • hugh crawford

    Berenice Abbott did this with Eugène Atget, Peter Miller did it with Mike Disfarmer, Max Brod published Franz Kafka’s work rather than burn it all as requested. John Kennedy Toole, Anne Frank, Vincent van Gogh, and Emily Dickinson only became known through the efforts of their surviving relatives, Henry David Thoreau did not become successful until over 100 years after his death. Rousseau, Modigliani were unknown when they died. Stieg Larsson , who wrote “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” died unpublished.

    If you think that Kafka and Emily Dickinson’s work should have been burned rather than published , I’ll have to disagree.

    Nobody would know who any of these people were or have known their work without a lot of publishers, dealers, etc. promoting it and making money in the process.

    I’m involved in a couple of similar projects, and believe me, ICP and MoMA won’t take the work of an unknown photographer for free.

  • RBM

    Hugh, although I don’t know enough about the others to comment……I’d disagree that Abbott did the same. She actually knew and was friends with Atget.
    Atget certainly considered Abbott enough of a friend to sit for her in perhaps the only revealing photograph we have of him. It could be argued that she did what she felt was best for her friend Atget, whose work she respected…….. ultimately getting almost everything into the MOMA for the ages.

    Regardless, there’s a particular “stink” about the stealing of a women’s life’s work while she’s still alive that pollutes everything these guys do, and it’s not going to go away any time soon.
    Mixed with the fact that Maier would be mortified at what they’re doing, I’ll stand by what I’ve written.

  • hugh crawford

    Most of the examples I mentioned were family or best friends
    who championed the artist’s work.

    Abbott was not only a friend but promoted Atget’s work because it focused on the same concerns she had about the changes in a great city. Abbott also knew that the only way MoMA would preserve what was treated as clip art at the time of Atget’s death would be to make them famous and expensive, i.e. running up the prices.

    From what I know, Ron Slattery, Jeffrey Goldstein, Randy Prow, John Maloof, and apparently a few other people bought the images at auctions of the contents of her storage locker.

    How the work came to be at auction is unclear, but I don’t think there is a credible case for Slattery, Goldstein, Prow, and Maloof “stealing” Maier’s life work. You might as well start blaming it all on Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas.

  • fred

    come on, think about it.

    what you are basically saying is, that people may copy paste all of the articles on petapixel and use it on their blogs, magazines etc. because petapixel can easily have it removed and then it will stop being available. seriously? that is the common misunderstanding of copyright law: a work is protected by default, but today people argue “hey I use your work without asking, and if you don’t like this you can tell me not to do so and I may take it down” = as long as the creator is not arware of it, people can do what they want. the bbc knows every single upload on the web and because the videos are online they must agree on it.

    and “just embedding”… you get people reading the article, you get people seeing/clicking the ads around it, so you are also taking from it.

    plus, why don’t you post hollywood feature films about photography then?