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A conversation is recounted in the book # Shantaram  in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #G...

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Thursday, 21 May 2015


I saw a moving documentary last week about a street photographer called #Vivian_Maier. She worked as a nanny in #Chicago and #NewYork in the 1960's through to the turn of the century. All the while, however, she carried around with her an old #Rolleiflex box camera and privately photographed her charges and the ordinary, often down-and-out people on the streets of the city in which she lived.

Over her lifetime she took over 150,000 photos, all on 12 shots-per-roll print film, getting through about a roll a day. The photographs I saw in the documentary (and on the Vivian Maier website) were beautiful, candid, evoking and of extraordinary quality, the more so given the basic equipment she was using.

As she had no home of her own, she spent most of her nanny's income developing her pictures and then hiring space to keep them in bins at a storage warehouse. At the end of her life she had an accident, was hospitalized, never recovered and her photographs were auctioned off by the warehouse for a pittance. Today her work is mostly in the hands of three people who have exploited the collection for millions of dollars.

A sorry tale by most standards, especially as Vivian Maier's fame was posthumous and she had no idea of its value and contribution to the art world.

What makes the story all the more remarkable is that she apparently never showed any of her pictures to another soul before she died. No one knew much about her, she was reclusive and a private person. She didn't try (and perhaps didn't want or feel the need) to be liked. Despite her photographs now being recognized as one of the most important bodies of photographic work, it seems that at no moment in her life was any photo shot with the intention to exhibit, sell or otherwise display it. This was her work, created for her sole  satisfaction and we may surmise with no desire for personal acknowledgment.

Yes, Vivian Maier might have been described as a little odd, perhaps even disturbingly odd, but what shines out of her work is a creative spirit who saw the world and its inhabitants for who they were and are. Perhaps the celebrated photographers of our time can do the same, but it seems that Ms Maier was able to see into the hearts and souls of her subjects because she had placed herself in a situation where she had nothing to prove, didn't need (or want) to be judged on her work and so was able to go about her creation in a place where the ego played little or no part.

What's in this for the rest of us to learn? Perhaps it is simply that when we do not demand or require recognition and acknowledgement, have no fear of judgement and are not slaves to the ego, we are free to unleash and exploit our deepest talents. The moment we are creating with an underlying purpose to satisfy the ego's greedy needs, that agenda interferes with the integrity of the creation.

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