Vivian Maier (1926-2009).
A Photographic Revelation
Château de Tours
from 09 November 2013
until 01 June 2014
Jeu de Paume, Château de Tours

Vivian Maier was the archetypal self-taught photographer with a keen sense of observation and an eye for composition. She was born in New York in 1926, but spent part of her childhood in France before returning to New York in 1951 when she started taking photos. In 1956, she moved to Chicago, where she lived until her death in 2009.

Her talent is comparable with that of the major figures of American street photography such as Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand. The exhibition presented at the Château de Tours by the Jeu de Paume, in partnership with the Municipality of Tours and diChroma photography, is the largest ever exhibition in France devoted to Vivian Maier. It includes 120 black and white and colour gelatin silver prints from the original slides and negatives, as well as extracts from Super 8 films she made in the 60s and 70s. This project, which is sourced from John Maloof’s collection, with the valuable assistance of Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York, reveals a poetic vision that is imbued with humanity.

John Maloof discovered Vivian Maier’s astonishing photos completely by chance in 2007 at an auction in Chicago. At the time, this young collector was looking for historical documentation about a specific neighbourhood of the city and he bought a sizeable lot of prints, negatives and slides (of which a major part had not even been developed) as well as some Super 8 films by an unknown and enigmatic photographer, Vivian Maier. By all accounts, Vivian Maier was a discreet person and somewhat of a loner. She took more than 120,000 photos over a period of thirty years and only showed this consequential body of work to a mere handful of people during her lifetime.

Vivian Maier earned her living as a governess, but all her free time and every day off was spent walking through the streets of New York, then later Chicago, with a camera slung around her neck (first of all box or folding cameras, later a Leica) taking photos. The children she looked after describe her as a cultivated and open-minded woman, generous but not very warm. Her images on the other hand bear witness to her curiosity for everyday life and the attention she paid to those passers — by who caught her eye: facial features, bearing, outfits and fashion accessories for the well-to-do and the telltale signs of poverty for those who were less fortunate.

While some photos are obviously furtively taken snapshots, others bear witness to a real encounter between the photographer and her models, who are photographed face-on and from close up. Her photos of homeless people and people living on the fringe of society demonstrate the depth of her empathy as she painted a somewhat disturbing portrait of an America whose economic boom was leaving many by the wayside.

Vivian Maier remained totally unknown until her death in April 2009. She had been taken in by the Gensburgs, for whom she had worked for almost seventeen years, and many of her possessions as well as her entire photographic output had been placed in storage. It was seized and sold in 2007 to settle unpaid bills.

Her biography has now been reconstructed, at least in part, thanks to a wealth of research and interviews carried out by John Maloof and Jeffrey Goldstein after the death of Vivian Maier. Jeffrey Goldstein is another collector who purchased a large part of her work. According to official documents, Vivian Maier was of Austro-Hungarian and French origin and her various trips to Europe, in particular to France (in the Alpine valley of Champsaur where she spent part of her childhood) have been clearly identified and documented. However, the circumstances that led her to take an interest in photography and her life as an artist remain veiled in mystery.

Photography seemed to be much more than a passion: her photographic activity was the result of a deeply felt need, almost an obsession. Each time she changed employers and had to move house, all her boxes and boxes of films (that she hadn’t had developed for want of money), as well as her archives comprising books and press cuttings about various stories in the news, came along too.

Vivian Maier’s body of work highlights those seemingly insignificant details that she came across during her long walks through the city streets: odd gestures, strange figures and graphic arrangements of figures in space. She also produced a series of captivating self-portraits from her reflection in mirrors and shop windows.

Curator: Anne Morin, director of diChroma photography


Exhibition produced by diChroma photography

in partnership with the Jeu de Paume
and the Municipality of Tours,
aided by Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Media partners: A Nous, ARTE, Faribole, France Bleu Touraine.

> Further Reading
"Inventing Vivian Maier” by Abigail Solomon-Godeau

Château de Tours
25 avenue André Malraux – 37000 Tours

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday: 2pm–6pm
Saturday and Sunday: 2.15pm–6pm

Free entry
Guided tours: Saturday: 3pm