A Chat with John Maloof: Curator of Vivian Maier's Street Photography

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We recently had the pleasure of talking to John Maloof, the young man who stumbled upon the work of perhaps one of the greatest unknown street photographers of the 1950's. Maloof answered questions about Vivian Maier, the great responsibility he just inherited, and more.

All photos in this posting were used with permission from John Maloof.


Chris: Why do you think Vivian never showed her photos to anyone?

John: Vivian led a very private life. She had no family, no close friends, she never married and never had children. My personal theory is that Vivian used photography as an outlet that may have compensated for the lack of these human needs. If she were to expose her work, being all that she really had, it may have made her vulnerable to criticism. This may be why she never showed her work, but it's just a guess based on what I've learned about Maier. 

Chris: Female street photographers might have a slight advantage in being perhaps less threatening and less voyeuristic to subjects. Do you think Vivian was able to push the limits of access in getting her shots? In your brief bio you mention she is a "keep your distance from me" kind of person, yet is up close and personal with her subjects.

John: Vivian was a strong woman. She would take the images she wanted, and I honestly don't think she feared men at all. Yes, I do believe she used the fact that she was a woman to her advantage, especially when photographing children. 

Chris: This is perhaps one of the first "art discoveries" in the post-social media age, where an obscure photographer or artist can earn fame from word spreading online. Have you been surprised at the speed of which the public has caught on and shared your vision of "amazing photographer from a shoebox?" How did this all start and where is it going?

John: This all started in 2007 when I was the president of a local historical society here in Chicago. I was co-authoring a book on the neighborhood Portage Park and I needed historic photos for the book, so I visited the local resale auction house and saw negatives with scenes of Chicago in some of the frames. So I made a gamble, hoping for the best. I won the box, and looked through the images with my co-author, finding none suitable for our book, so I stashed them in the closet. It wasn't until I was finished with the book that the images were looked at again, and it took about half a year or more for me to realize that these were really good photographs and not just some old found snapshots. 

I was extremely surprised at the speed of popularity of this work online. It has been snowballing ever since, and it's quite extraordinary to have this capability in this age, to capture a large audience so easily. 

Chris: You want to raise $20,000 to make a documentary about Vivian, and you've raised $30,000 on Kickstarter.com already. With two months still to go, will significant funding change your original plans? What are the distribution avenues you are pursuing at this time? 

John: At the time of this email reply, we've raised $70,000. The amount of support has been astounding. This money will be used to create an even-better-quality film. This changes our plans a bit, but not fundamentally. We still have the same vision for the film, but the added funds will allow us to do further research, conduct more interviews, and to afford the required equipment needed. 

At this juncture we don't have a distributor, but it is still early in the project, and we haven't gone down that avenue just yet.

Chris: You outfitted yourself very nicely from B&H. Care to list the scanners, printers, and cameras (both still and video) you have purchased from us to help bring Vivian's work from a shoe box to museum exhibitions?

John: I've purchased two Epson V700 scanners, Epson paper, Epson ink, various cameras for my own personal work, lenses, etc. I've purchased video cameras for the documentary, including the Canon T2i, memory cards, backup batteries, tape stock, hard drives, etc. The exhibition was printed posthumously on Epson paper, and by Epson archival inkjet printers—all from B&H—and it has been very well received.  

For more on the history of Vivian Maier, you can watch this piece.

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just seen the movie finding viviane maier. what a great doco. her photography was amazing. top marks to john maloo for bringing the movie to our attention. cheers