Inspiring Conversations

Street Photography’s Pioneer

  • SumoMe

By Penny K

There’s Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist and Garance Dore and her whimsical street photography blog of the same name, but way back before the advent of the Internet and DSLRs, there was Vivian Maier.

Vivian came here from France in the early 1930’s and worked in a sweat shop in New York when she was about 11 or 12. She was not Jewish but a Catholic, or as they said, an anti-Catholic. She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved. She wore a men’s jacket, men’s shoes and a large hat most of the time. She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t show anyone.

– John Maloof who runs

Maloof found Maier’s works by chance, acquiring her negatives while at a furniture and antique auction. Very little is known about Maier except that the auction house acquired her belongings from her storage locker that was sold off due to delinquent payments.

The folks at Central Camera, a 110-year-old camera shop in Chicago, tell Maloof that they have encountered Maier from time to time when she would purchase film while out on the Chicago streets.

From what they knew of her, they say she was a very “keep your distance from me” type of person but was also outspoken. She loved foreign films and didn’t care much for American films.

Some of her photos feature children and often times they were taken near a beach. Maloof found out she was a nanny for a family on the North Side whose children these most likely were. She lived in the Rogers Park neighborhood, Chicago.

Out of the 30-40,000 negatives Maloof acquired, about 10-15,000 negatives were still in rolls, undeveloped from the 1960s and 1970s. While he has been successfully developing these rolls, he still has about 600 rolls to develop.

I must say, it’s very exciting for me. Most of her negatives that were developed in sleeves have the date and location penciled in French (she had poor penmanship).

Intrigued by the elusive Maier, Maloof found her name written with pencil on a photo-lab envelope and decided to ‘Google’ her about a year after he purchased her negatives only to find her obituary placed the day before his search. She passed away only a couple of days before his inquiry on her.

Life’s coincidences are endlessly amazing and it’s true, you never know what it can bring.

Vivian Maier - Her Works Discovered

Picture 1 of 20

All pictures obtained via, developed by John Maloof.

Go to here to see more of her works.


  1. this is amazing.

    pity your picture display is stretching the low-res images so much they look pixelized.

    i would recommend going to the blog to view them in the intended size.

  2. Hi ember,

    Thanks for visiting.

    And yes, we would recommend going to the blog not only to view them in the intended size, but to see more of Maier’s pictures – there are many more!

  3. shahirah /

    Wow pretty amazing stuff. It’s like The Sartorialist x10 because of the awesome old-fashioned clothes and style.

  4. Hi Shahirah,

    It is indeed The Sartorialist x 10! But you’d notice that Maier focused less on fashion and glamour than on pure human emotion and the vastness of spaces (city, seaside). It’s also very sentimental. These photos present themselves like a time-warp, in a good kind of way!

  5. I heard about the story of how her images were discovered and was amazed at how beautiful, dynamic, breathtaking,i mean that words can’t describe her work. On my free time I am a street photographer myself in Japan mainly the Tokyo area and use very little if any post processing for my images (if you count editing with picassa which i luv using) I was so inspired by the way she caught the essence of street life the people and their surroundings, and all those priceless moments is beyond words. Through my blackmaninjapan photoblog i will recommend to anyone who love street photography to check out her work.

    I would like to thank Mr. Maloof for finding those negatives and creating positives by showing her work to the world, especially my world

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