The following was published in UChicago News on August 22, 2019.
By Rachel Rosenberg
The University of Chicago Library has received more than 2,700 vintage prints by celebrated photographer Vivian Maier, few of which have ever been published or displayed.
Collector John Maloof made the donation to the UChicago Library, where they will be preserved and made accessible to researchers in the Special Collections Research Center. The gift includes more than 1,200 black-and-white and 1,400 color prints that Maier made, ranging from her travels around the world to her street photography in Chicago that has received widespread critical acclaim. Because Maier chose to make the prints herself, the collection provides a rare glimpse into her creative process and the photos to which she was drawn.
“This exceptional collection will give researchers and students a more complex understanding of Vivian Maier as a unique figure in 20th-century photography,” said Brenda L. Johnson, library director and University librarian. “We are so pleased that, with the receipt of this magnificent gift from John Maloof, the UChicago Library has the largest collection of Maier photographs held by any museum or library—and the only large collection of Maier’s work that is open to all interested researchers.”
Maloof first discovered the significance of Vivian Maier’s work after purchasing the contents of several storage lockers in 2008 from an auction house, eventually building a collection of more than 100,000 of Maier’s negatives and prints.The Academy Award-nominated documentary Finding Vivian Maier, which Maloof co-wrote and co-directed, depicts his exploration of Maier’s life and work.
Maier was born in New York City in 1926. She spent much of her early life traveling the world before finding a home in 1956 in Chicago, where she worked as a nanny to support her photography. It was only after her death in 2009 that Maier’s work was displayed in museums and galleries to widespread acclaim.
New window into Maier’s creative process
While six major photography books and two biographies about Maier have been published in recent years, much of her work remains unknown. Whereas most recent prints of her work have been made by collectors, Maloof’s gift offers a more direct and personal glimpse into the photographer’s work.
Capturing everything from landscapes to still lifes to candid shots of actors and actresses, the vintage prints demonstrate a variety of subjects and compositional approaches that show the breadth of Maier’s interests. In addition to the prints—which range in size from 2 by 2.5 inches to 11 by 14 inches—the collection also includes cameras, papers and other personal items.
“The vintage prints John donated to the Library were made by Vivian Maier herself in her own darkroom, or printed for her by photo processors at her direction,” said Daniel Meyer, director of the Special Collections Research Center. “Researchers examining the collection will be able to see some examples of how she evaluated and edited her own work, which images she decided to enlarge or reprint, and which ones she chose to crop.”
The prints will provide researchers an opportunity to consider what makes Maier’s work distinctive, said Prof. Laura Letinsky, a photographer who teaches in UChicago’s Department of Visual Arts and serves as its director of graduate studies. She added the collection provides an opportunity to think in depth both about Maier’s influences and her point of view. For example, her depiction of women was one aspect that immediately stood out to Letinsky: “Street photographer Garry Winogrand’s pictures of women are sexy—Maier’s are not.”
Seeing a concentrated group of Maier’s works rather than a small curated selection, Letinsky said, will help students better understand the level of commitment required in photography, as well as how the medium has evolved since the mid-20th century.
“I would talk about the difference in the way people see the world in this era versus our Instagram era now,” Letinsky said. “I’d want them to see the physicality of it.”
The archive also includes examples of items Maier collected: seven still cameras and three movie cameras, plus a variety of lenses, attachments and cases; ring binders and plastic display holders filled with newspaper and magazine clippings; luggage, a travel itinerary, postcards, address books and other ephemera.
This is the second gift Maloof has given to the UChicago Library, following his 2017 donation of 500 Maier prints. After seeing the interest those prints generated among scholars, students and the public, Maloof realized that he needed to give more to build an “effective study collection.”
Maier’s work joins collections of a range of female photographers held by the UChicago Library, including photo-secessionist Eva Watson-Schütze, documentary photographer Mildred Mead, anthropologist Joan Eggan and literary photographer Layle Silbert.
The copyrights in the photography contained in this press release are owned by the Estate of Vivian Maier. The Estate grants a limited license to media and press to reproduce the attached images in articles concerning Vivian Maier and/or John Maloof’s donation of vintage prints of Vivian Maier’s work to the University of Chicago. Hi-resolution versions of images may be used in connection with print versions of articles only. For electronic and online publications, the reproduced images may not exceed 1500 pixels on the longest side and 72 dpi. Unauthorized reproduction, distribution, or exhibition could result in liability under the Copyright Act. Publication of any of these images requires accompanying use of this notice: “Unpublished work © 2017 The Estate of Vivian Maier. All rights reserved.”