The late photographer, who worked in total seclusion throughout her life, left behind 40,000 colour slides which had never been seen – until now.

The late photographer, who worked in total seclusion throughout her life, left behind 40,000 colour slides which had never been seen – until now.

When legendary American photographer Vivian Maier died in 2009 at the age of 83, she left behind some 40,000 Ektachrome colour slides that had gone unseen and unpublished. Thankfully, a new exhibition and monograph – titled Vivian Maier: Colour Photographs  – showcase the stunning works made by the artist, who worked in total seclusion throughout her life. 

For more than 40 years, Maier work as a nanny on Chicago’s wealthy North Side. Her job gave her the ability to hit the streets with her camera and take portraits of modern life during the second half of the 20th century. 

“Look closely art the many self-portraits Vivian Maier made, and you will see her disguises, her cloak of invisibility,” photographer Joel Meyerowitz writes in the book’s foreword. “She’s as plain as an old-fashioned school marm. She’s the wallflower, the spinster aunt, the ungainly tourist in the big city… except… she isn’t!”

As a photographer, Maier served no one but herself. Liberated from the demands of a commercial or fine art career, she took artistic freedom to its ultimate height, indulging in the pleasures of colour photography long before it was embraced by the art world. 

“Colour was the language of corporate and commercial artwork and photography,” says Giles Huxley-Parlour, gallerist. “Your holiday brochures in the 1970s, supplements in newspapers, and postcards were in colour, and art was in black and white.”

Untitled, c. 1977 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Self-Portrait, Chicago Area, June 1978 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

“The art establishment: critics, photographers, and museum curators, didn’t consider colour to be worth considering because it was tainted with commerciality. It’s madness if you think about it, but that’s the way it was. I doubt Vivian Maier had a sense of any snobbery in the art world given her position.”

Maier’s life is largely a mystery – one that continues to enthral art historians and collectors for her precision of vision found throughout her prolific archive.

“I have looked through many photographers archives in my career and most have 20 good pictures, 50 nearly very good pictures, and that’s it – even the big names – and the rest is quite forgettable,” Huxley-Parlour says. “Vivian Maier’s hit rate for a good photograph is off the charts. She was blessed with an extraordinary genius.”

Maier’s gifts are particularly resonant in the colourwork, where her poetic sensibilities are enhanced by a rich sense of humour that may have come from her choice of camera. “She was using a Rolleiflex for the black and white photographs – quite a big camera you look down into from your waist so it doesn’t allow for much spontaneity,” Huxley-Parlour says. “Whereas colour was 35mm, a lighter, smaller camera up by the eye that enables you to move about more quickly and snap away.” 

Maier made it a point to be anonymous in the creation of her work. She mastered the art of anonymity and in doing so, her archive speaks the power true independence affords – to be liberated to create anything the heart desires, knowing that, in and of itself, is enough. 

Self-Portrait, 1961 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Chicago, February 1976 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Chicago, April 1977 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Chicago 1962 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Chicago 1977 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Self-Portrait, Chicagoland, October 1975 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Untitled, c. 1977 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Vivian Maier: Colour Photographs is on view at Huxley-Parlour, London, through September 14.

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