The Miraculous Everyday
Anyone who knows me will tell you about my fascination for decoding the mundane. I have spent most of my life in pursuit of just the right turn-of-phrase (written or musical) to describe those intangible moments of the everyday that make life – for better or worse – worth the living.
Some of us might profess loftier vistas and pursuits but the Everyday is still a fact and factor determining the course of our lives. For the most part the things that change us happen incrementally, and we lose that precision of The Moment when living these changes. No medium succeeds in capturing intimacies, suspending time, and making these ‘things’ tangible like the humble Photograph. Its double-eye of lens and Taker, calculating and critical, indifferent and enraptured are unison of self-expression and distanced observation.
As 20th/21st century creatures, we understand the power of a photographic image.
Vivian Mayer is a name not many have heard, and would have been lost to the yawning chasm of time, if not for the unintentional unearthing of her Life’s Work. Out of a ‘Storage Wars’-like scenario, a collection of 30,000 negatives bought at auction for $400USD would reveal a talent so enormous, so compelling in its mystery that there is little doubt that Maier – her work, her life, her story – is destined for Legend.
The public was her favourite subject – the intangible threads of existence that connect us to each other and to place. Her images capture New York City and Chicago in the coming-of-age 1950s and 1960s and are striking not only in their expert composition but also in the tenderness and care taken with each photo’s subject – be that of a pair of clandestinely clasped hands or of a youth astride his stallion taking a slow trot underneath an L-Train or a pile of discarded delivery boxes.
But she never wanted to share her work with the public – with anyone.
Are we violating an unspoken/unwritten trust in exposing her work – and therefore Vivian herself – to the critical gaze of curators, collectors – professional and amateur – and the public? This is one of many ethical questions raised and hotly debated since the exhibition, sale and mythologizing of her photographic talent and work.
Intensely private, this unassuming woman of meager means, and unimposing existence, is now being hailed as a Genius and ‘possibly one of the most important photographers of the 20th Century’. Still she chose anonymity – almost up to her tragic and ill-timed death in 2009, age 83.
That personal and professional choice has been swept away under a tide of publicity and curiosity since the unveiling of her images by a total stranger. It is worthwhile noting that though she is lauded by the Smithsonian, mourned in the Chicago Tribune, and now the subject of a documentary feature (Finding Vivian Maier) and academic research, at the time of her death Ms Maier was a relative unknown – just a woman you might drift past every day, but through whose eyes we see glimpses of ourselves that are beautiful and unsettling as they are revealing and poetic. We who have eyes to see, to look upon her work, are certainly richer for it.
Miracles inhabit the everyday – take a picture, it lasts longer!
Vivian Maier articles and Information:
Obituary – Chicago Tribune
Finding Vivian Maier – the film
Vivian Maier Official website
National Geographic – The Power of Photography
Guardian article ‘Our Nanny, the photographer Vivian Maier’
Academic Reading on ‘Subjectivity in the Photographic Image’ (published by: Vas Avramidis, 2012)