As writers, each of us at The Midnight Society have our own reasons for doing what we do. As an escape, to explore new worlds, to make a statement about things going on in the world. However, I’d venture to say that every one of us writes so we can leave a legacy after we’ve gone. And my discovery of photographer Vivian Maier made me reflect on an artist’s legacy.
DISCOVERING VIVIAN MAIER
I was recently introduced to Vivian Maier, who worked as a nanny for over 40 years in Chicago who, in her spare time, took photographs of people and architecture. The remarkable thing? Until a man named John Maloof discovered her work in an auction, most of her work had never seen the light of day.
While at a furniture and antique auction in 2007, Maloof discovered one of the items up for bid was a collection containing photographs and slides of Chicago. Thinking he might be able to use some of the photos in the book he was currently working on, Maloof bid on a box that had been reclaimed from a storage locker that had gone into delinquency from unpaid fees. He ended up uncovering a literal treasure trove of one of the world’s most prolific yet undiscovered street photographers – Vivian Maier.
In the foot locker, Maloof discovered over 100,000 photographs, thousands of prints, and countless rolls of undeveloped film. Spotting Vivan Maier’s name written on one of the envelopes, he did a Google search, only to find out she had passed away only a few days earlier.
Most of Vivian’s life is still a mystery. Although she worked for a few Chicago families as a nanny, she was said to be very private, although her employers described her as being akin to Mary Poppins, taking the children she cared for on adventures around the city.
This video from Chicago Tonight (#1 in a 3-part series) is an excellent look at how Vivian’s work was discovered and the mystery surrounding both the art and the artist.
Go watch it now! Then come back…
Something struck me at the end of the piece. Were it not for that storage locker, and not for the collectors who gave shelter to her work and made it known to the public, Maier may have gone on to be forgotten.
With no children, no family, no friends that we know of, who was there to remember Vivian Maier?
Of course, the families she worked for had their impressions of her. But even to them, Vivian remained something of an enigma.
As for her art, what if no one had ever discovered it? What if that storage locker had been cleared out when her contract lapsed without payment and the owners simply tossed everything in the trash? The astounding works of one of the greatest street photographers ever may never have been shared with us.
So, this brings me back to myself and my fellow Midnight Society members. Why we do what we do. Why we spend those late nights and early mornings, why we take time over lunch or during our commutes, scribbling in notebooks and typing away on laptops and tablets and computers. Why we take time from family events and holidays.
We want to be remembered. We want to make our mark. We want to leave something beautiful (or creepy or magical or terrifying but MOST DEFINITELY entertaining) behind after we’re gone from this place forever.
And the thought of being forgotten, of never reaching others with our work, even if it’s just one other person, is a horror that is so devastating that I cannot even fathom.
It isn’t about fame or making millions. It’s about connecting with others. It’s about being seen. And no matter how different we are, no matter what we choose to write, in that, we can all relate to one another.
We all have that spark within ourselves. You do, too. Don’t be afraid to share it.
EXPLORE VIVIAN MAIER’S LIFE
Also, if you didn’t have time earlier, give the video above a watch. It gives her history and the journey from those first boxes bought at auction to their unveiling to the world. It runs about 10 minutes and is worth every second.
Then go…make art! Draw, write, sing, make some music. SHARE YOUR SPARK!