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.