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johnmaloof 2:26am, 10 October 2009
I purchased a giant lot of negatives from a small auction house here in Chicago. It is the work of Vivian Maier, a French born photographer who recently past away in April of 2009 in Chicago, where she resided. I opened a blogspot blog with her work here; www.vivianmaier.com.

I have a ton of her work (about 30-40,000 negatives) which ranges in dates from the 1950's-1970's. I guess my question is, what do I do with this stuff? Check out the blog. Is this type of work worthy of exhibitions, a book? Or do bodies of work like this come up often?

Any direction would be great.
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drab protest [deleted] 9 years ago
locaburg 9 years ago
Have you contacted any photo historians and or curators? The work looks really strong to me and also obviously has significant historical value for the city of Chicago.
johnmaloof 9 years ago
I just contacted the Chicago Cultural Center and applied for an exhibition with the curator. It takes a few months for a response. They were very nice, by the way.

I contacted the Stephen Daiter Gallery. The person I spoke with said the same thing, "strong work...above average for the time period" but, since they are negatives, not prints, they can't do much for me.

I thought about contacting the Chicago History Museum but just the thought of this stuff getting filed away for reference purposes keeps me from doing that. I have an emotional attachment to her work at this point.
John Goldsmith Posted 9 years ago. Edited by John Goldsmith (member) 9 years ago
Wow. Really cool.

The most obvious point of contacts, if you ask me, are the Chicago Historical Society and the Art Institute of Chicago. I can't place of those photos but some were certainly taken in Chicago. Another option, if you read the obituary below, is to donate them to the Native American Heritage Association.

Published in the Chicago Tribune on 4/23/2009


Vivian Maier, proud native of France and Chicago resident for the last 50 years died peacefully on Monday. Second mother to John, Lane and Matthew. A free and kindred spirit who magically touched the lives of all who knew her. Always ready to give her advice, opinion or a helping hand. Movie critic and photographer extraordinaire. A truly special person who will be sorely missed but whose long and wonderful life we all celebrate and will always remember. Memorial donations can be given to the Native American Heritage Association, P.O. Box 512, Rapid City, SD 57709.


edit: I totally forgot about the cultural centre. Good idea.
johnmaloof Posted 9 years ago. Edited by johnmaloof (member) 9 years ago
Ah, yes. I am very familiar of her obituary. The Chicago Tribune gives me dead-ends on the people who placed the ad. They gave me an address that doesn't exist and a phone number that is disconnected. I have not much information on this woman, and I have dug deep. I was contacted by a photographer named Alan Sekula. He dug up info on her and found that she was a Jewish refugee from wartime France. She was a "keep your distance from me" type of person and had strong opinions for women's rights. She was a loner and poor.

Here's a kicker. I had 1000 rolls of her 120 film that were never developed. I have been successfully developing this film which is from the 1960's! I have about 600 rolls left to go. This maybe a sign that she was obsessed with photography so much so that she just liked to take the picture and nothing more.

I'm not going to donate them unless her work will be exposed and not just stored. I really would like to get this stuff out there but it seems difficult due to the medium...just negatives. Although I believe much of Atget's work was found after his death in the form of glass negatives.
John Goldsmith 9 years ago
I totally understand your argument. Obviously you are impressed with her work and if nobody has the same passion as you... why give it up for another dark closet?

This story is so amazing and I love reading the details. Given her strong photography, I was surprised that no Wiki page existed. She wan't much into networking as you say.

Other (wing-nut) suggestions are to donate the negs to the Jane Addams Hull House; she was another strong, though vocal, woman from Chicago. The JA center is where I first learned photography. My teacher, Richard Stromberg, created a new studio for photographers after the Lakeview center was sold. The new studio seems vibrant and maybe a nice home for the work you possess.


weakmassive 9 years ago
Wow, that's amazing. Thanks for sharing. I wonder if anyone at Columbia College / MoCP would be able to help. They were the the ones that helped put out Gary Stochl's book after he came in unannounced to see the chair of the photography dept (Bob Thall) with a box full of prints.
johnmaloof 9 years ago
Cool. I will look into your suggestions.

I'm sure no Wiki page existed because she was late in age when that came to be. Her entire estate was auctioned (furniture and all). This was no fine art auction where I purchased this from. Straight junk & antiques auction house. I feel that perhaps no friends or relatives claimed anything because she had none.

I found that she did babysitting on the Northside for quite some time. I have a hunch the child/children have grown older and are the ones who placed the obituary in the paper (traced the non-existent address to a Northside block). The mystery is what keeps me going on her. If I knew all about her, I don't think I'd be as interested.
just tiff shaw 9 years ago
dude. awesome! I'd definitely get in touch with the AI of Chi. They've got an extensive photography department and I'm sure theres folks there that can help. I'm sorry I can't be of more assistance, but if you need anything, any help or whatever, I'm in the chicago area. Good luck bro, the blog alone is fantastic!
Dan!e|e 9 years ago
Thanks for sharing
_barb_ 9 years ago
It is very strong work indeed, it's good that you are taking care of the negatives.... though that is a mind boggling amount of them. They may have easily ended up in a dumpster, I'm glad they didn't get lost.
brief pail [deleted] 9 years ago
Wow, thank you for saving the negatives and developing the rolls. It would have been a tragedy if they'd been lost. I hope you can find a satisfactory solution to this problem.

Let us know what happens.
Tony Martin (NT) 9 years ago
Too good to be shut away in a historical museum archive for another 50 years.

You're book idea is good. It would be a biggun though, possibley a series. I'd love to be able to buy a hard copy compilation of the works, that would be something special!
well-made suit [deleted] 9 years ago
Woah, these photos are great.
krameroneill 9 years ago
Fantastic. I certainly hope you make some progress with this; it should be a show or two and a book, at the least. Great stuff, great find. Thanks for saving it.
locaburg 9 years ago
love this one and a self portrait of her: 2.bp.blogspot.com/_YUrw6ooCZj4/Sias55SapUI/AAAAAAAAAOg/7w...
Ian_Boys 9 years ago
She's really really good.
johnmaloof 9 years ago
Thanks for viewing her work. Perhaps I will do an exhibition and go from there. Of course, not all of her negatives were home runs. I scanned about 1,000 that I thought were strong. I definitely have enough to work with.

@weakmassive: I went to Columbia College. I should have thought about that one myself. I will approach them for sure.
Wow, really freaking cool. Its very fortunate that this work has fallen into the right hands, as someone said above it could easily have been thrown into a dumpster and lost forever. I have no doubt that you will find someone whose passion in this endeavor will match your own, johnmaloof, if not sooner than later. If I had any ideas for you, I'd share them, but as of now I have none, although there are some good places to approach listed above. This work deserves its day, that's for sure.
Dr Karanka 9 years ago
It's mad that stuff like this can end up anywhere... and lucky it might have ended up in the right hands!
(deaf mute) 9 years ago
The photos on the blog are excellent. Good luck in bringing them to a wider audience.
Thomas Hawk 9 years ago
she's very talented. 30,000 to 40,000 negatives is a lot. Do you know does this represent the majority of her life's work? Or are there other negatives out there somewhere?
Thomas Hawk 9 years ago
What does a lot like that in the after death auction market go for anyways? I'm assuming that you didn't get an IP assignment with the lot.
johnmaloof 9 years ago
The work I have is probably all of the work she did during that period. Whether or not she had more before or after is another question. I know that I have about 80-90% of the work that sold at the auction. I'm not sure what an IP assignment is so, don't think I got one of those.

Not sure what market value is.
instinctive earth [deleted] 9 years ago
just another example of how talented women photographers really are undervalued by a male dominated sexist industry. if it had been a man who had taken the same shots, then there would have been countless blogs and wikis dedicated to his life's work.

it is also somewhat ironic that a man purchased these discarded negatives.

this is an outrage that her work was allowed to fall by the wayside like this. time for women to take a stand and stop this needless discrimination at the hands of male photogs/publishers!
krameroneill 9 years ago
Is that really irony?
complete word [deleted] 9 years ago
It is interesting that the immediate assumption is to turn to established institutions. Just out of curosity, why not upload them under CC to flickr? I imagine it would reach the largest audience that way. I'm sure as T. Hawk mentioned, there are IP issues. It also involves a fair amount of personal time and effort, which is inevitably your personal decision.
Essentially, distribute them in an open manner to the largest audience possible.
LoFiKen 9 years ago
Outstanding. Good luck, i'm sure this will end up with something good. It has to!
teh resa 9 years ago

I may be wrong, but I believe that without an ip assignment the copyright remains with the heirs to whoever (her, I assume) owned the negatives at the time that the film was exposed. For 50 years after her death...

I may be wrong, just going from memory of what I've read about it in the past.
teh resa 9 years ago
I would suggest you not spend too much of your own money on developing the film until you sort that out. Maybe you could re-sell the negatives and make a profit on them now that you have a better idea of the quality of the images? The images would still find an audience.
_Pachinko_ Posted 9 years ago. Edited by _Pachinko_ (member) 9 years ago
Ι love this

Out of curiosity, how did you know how to develop the first roll? ie how she shot it, if it needed to be pushed and what chemical to use? What stock film is it?
Paul Russell99 9 years ago
Fascinating story...
johnmaloof Posted 9 years ago. Edited by johnmaloof (member) 9 years ago
@notgnihsaw: Good idea. Maybe I will do that.

@Therr: I seriously don't think she had heirs. One of her obituary's said that she was a "second mother to"...(so and so). I looked them up and they are not related. I assume it was the children she was the nanny to for many years, who also most likely put up the obituary. If there were any heirs, you would think they would have claimed some of her estate. Instead, her entire property was auctioned off, to my knowledge. This is what I learned talking to the owners of the auction house. I looked into the legal rights on these and it's vague if there are no heirs.

I did start selling her negatives on eBay. I sold about 200 of them. They sold for a lot. One in particular sold for $80! That's when I stopped and realized there's something here that should stay together.

@Pachinko: The first batch of rolls came out a bit thin but mainly usable. It was only after developing about 100 rolls that I realized I should be pushing these. Since then, they have been fine. She used Kodak Tri-X 120 film. Every roll was hand labeled in French.
Bryan.Formhals Posted 9 years ago. Edited by Bryan.Formhals (member) 4 years ago
I would just keep the blog going for awhile. These things tend to take on a life of their own, and with the right exposure from the photography community, I'm sure the work will find its place.

I'm curious about the editing. In the case of Gary Stochl, the first glimpse we got was a very tightly edited book. In this instance, we'll probably get a much looser web-centric edit which is either good or bad I suppose.

It makes me wonder how many other Vivian's are out there. If enough of this work comes out, the photography world might need to re-evaluate its canon....
teh resa 9 years ago
I certainly agree that the work should stay together. I just thought maybe you could sell the whole body of work to some organization with the money and influence to put it together - or figure out how to get it recognized as orphaned. I'd think you might be able to make a tidy bit of money.

A few rolls of 35mm trix that I've left around for 10+ years and developed at 800 have ended up very grainy. You did a good job with those 120s
thechrisproject 9 years ago
Jules... Posted 9 years ago. Edited by Jules... (member) 9 years ago
Makes me think of Mingering Mike.

[edit - in terms of publicising this]
ceaseless oven [deleted] 9 years ago
yup, some really good stuff in there. well done on getting them and kudos for actually looking at doing something with them.

If there is anything that I could recommend it would be to try and get some funding together for a better website... not that it needs much but I personally don't find blogspot that easy to use when it comes to browsing photography.

How is the stuff organised at the moment, is there any information with the prints or anything about locations, projects or anything of the like?
would be nice to have some sort of glimpse into how the photographer wanted them to be grouped or even presented.
Paul Russell99 Posted 9 years ago. Edited by Paul Russell99 (member) 9 years ago
I agree with what Bryan says about keeping the blog going and just see what happens.

I'm sure the whole story about how you came across them + quality of images + historical document aspects add up to it being interesting enough to become newsworthy, and then more information about her, offers of help from curators, etc. might follow on from there.

It would be nice to get a small grant to pay for your time, chemicals, etc., if that sort of thing is possible!
gumanow 9 years ago
maybe we could all chip in and help develop those negs? seems like it would be a lot of work. although, i don't know if i would trust my negs with someone else to develop. too much could go wrong.

great story though!
ceaseless oven [deleted] 9 years ago
oh ye, defo get in touch with the local press and stuff, should get some good exposure for you and they may even be able to help out on some level (even if it is finding a suitable gallery willing to help you).
BennehBoy 9 years ago
@cindyshermans, yeah I say take a stand - so what are you going to do to end male tyranny?
johnmaloof 9 years ago
@James_Dodd: Her negatives are not really organized. They are in archival sleeves but they weren't in any order when I received them in old shoe boxes and such. Each sleeve may have a couple of words in French describing the location and the date. There are only a handfull of small prints with no description on them.

@Paul_Russell99: I am looking into a grant in case I get the exhibition acceptance from the Chicago Cultural Centre. I have done a bunch of research. Most lead to dead-ends. I have a few more leads but I really am afraid there may not be much info on her.

What type of news medium do you think I should approach?

@gumanow: Thanks but, I have no problem paying for the film developing. I appreciate the courteous suggestion. It's more time intensive than anything.
John Goldsmith Posted 9 years ago. Edited by John Goldsmith (member) 9 years ago
This is similar to Bryan's idea but maybe a bit more proactive than using just your own blog...

I wonder if you could submit some to a photography website that might give more exposure, say Shorpy. I mean.. I know you don't know a great deal about the photographer but maybe your auction story and the pics would make for a good blog post and reach a wider audience.
johnmaloof Posted 9 years ago. Edited by johnmaloof (member) 9 years ago
Waxy: Thanks for the lead. I will check out/add photos to shorpy.com today.
John Goldsmith 9 years ago
Shorpy is one idea, though I'm not sure how viable. There are probably a number of sites that may be interested. Bryan is probably one of your better resources for finding potential websites. I wonder if ASX would be interested...

Brian Reitz 9 years ago
Just amazing.. I love these kinds of finds, and stories. I also wonder how many other Vivian's are out there too. Waxy's idea for Shorpy sounds like a good start for the historical aspect of websites.
johnmaloof 9 years ago
I'll be searching for other sites for sure. Thanks for all your help, WAXY and everyone else, for that matter. This post has definitely steered me in the direction I was hoping for.

FYI: here's a snapshot of the box of rolls (what's left)
Hundreds of rolls of Vivian Maier's work...
nohasseldad 9 years ago
I have no advice for you, but I did want to say that I really enjoyed looking at her work on the blog you set up. Thank you!
John Goldsmith Posted 9 years ago. Edited by John Goldsmith (member) 9 years ago
Glad to help. I hope you find a worthy place... and, I that they stay in Chicago so when I return someday I can see them on the Art Institute wall. :)
instinctive earth [deleted] 9 years ago
bennehboy: "yeah i say take a stand - so what are you going to do to end male tyranny?"

well for starters I am going to demand that your avatar have compulsory plastic surgery and possibly a facial massage to top it off. because franks there would sure stand out in a street full of people when on my leash, hence making it even more difficult to get quality street photos.

after the facial is done, i would take him off his leash and tell him to go fetch my nikon from the shelf and some more neopan from the store. after that i would drag franks around sunset boulevard whilst making him recite quotes from notables like lange, bourke-white, arbus and levitt, all the while whipping him with my camera leash if he gets any wrong.
_Pachinko_ 9 years ago
Can I watch?
benroberts 9 years ago
can i photograph it?
Can I rephotograph it?
BennehBoy 9 years ago
WinstonG 9 years ago
"well for starters I am going to demand that your avatar have compulsory plastic surgery "

Oh dear i thought it had and the op had gone wrong:)
WinstonG 9 years ago

I would be looking for a home for the stuff in an organisation that will last.
I would be loathe to try and handle it all by myself. The archival space alone is a duanting prospect.
Hans Palmboom Posted 9 years ago. Edited by Hans Palmboom (member) 9 years ago
***nah, nevermind***
Paul Russell99 Posted 9 years ago. Edited by Paul Russell99 (member) 9 years ago
@ johnmaloof

"What type of news medium do you think I should approach?" -- oh, I don't know, I was just saying that it will probably find you if you do a bit of Internet promotion.

BTW, if you haven't already done this, it's easy to set up Google Analytics on your blog so you can see where your visitors come from (I got that from Joni, I think).
ceaseless oven [deleted] 9 years ago
I'd get in touch with local radio, newspapers, tv whatever... try and get the community involved and make it real... I just think the internet makes things a little too distant at times.
icrez 9 years ago
fascinating story !
I can only say WOW!
stanco55 9 years ago
Have you contacted ICP? I would think interest in this amazing find will continue to develop. Bide your time and go with the best offer that honors her legacy.
johnmaloof 9 years ago
Stanco: Thank for the great lead. I will contact them today.

I will keep this discussion updated as to any findings from my lead inquiries.
wayne bremser 9 years ago
thanks for your work in developing and scanning the negatives, they look great. would love to see them cross posted on flickr so they can be favorite'd!
florian_d 9 years ago
Great story. Just came across this and must say that you do a great job making her work public. Very well deserved.
martinnicholls 9 years ago
Fascinating tale. She was clearly some talent - some wonderful shots in there. Good luck - I'll be following this one.
amyb68 Posted 9 years ago. Edited by amyb68 (member) 9 years ago
@johnmaloof - I used to work in the Ryerson Archives at the Art Institute here in Chicago and might be able to put you in touch with archivist there (I think my old boss is still there). She's great and might have some advice. If your interested, flickrmail me. I'd love to help in any way! Great stuff!

edit- spelling
kinoglass 9 years ago
Interesting that Vivian Maier did not see her work, she would shoot and store the negs. What was she planning to do, I wonder.

Looking at the images deprived of any other details raises many questions, while most are distinctively shot in Chicago some are likely to have been shot in NYC. Then, when, in what year, as time defines almost everything.

There is no question the artist and his/her work are bonded together, not just by the clicking of the shutter, but by time, location, age, context and personal history. Other wise the meaning of art is nearly destroyed reduced to a meaningless image suspended in time, keeping you guessing.

We can't hardly define Vivian Maier by looking only at her work, work she never saw!
johnmaloof 9 years ago
@Kinoglass: I just want to note that I do have developed negatives from her also. I have all together between 30-40,000. That is including 1,000 rolls of film which accounts for about 12,000 negatives. There are also a handful of about 100 small prints.
wrongun 9 years ago
Keep at the blog is all i can say! She has some great work and I'll be following.
flat5 9 years ago
blake andrews is in to it..
John Goldsmith 9 years ago
stanco55 9 years ago
Have you contacted the major papers in Chicago? This would certainly be news of note there, and they could certainly help get the word out! Hopefully, The Windy City will step in and honor this most worthy (and until now anonymous) of its citizens. And if they don't, take your time until someone (be it a public or private museum, photo gallery, photo institution or university) offers you the best home possible (wherever it may be) for this outstanding collection...
kinoglass Posted 9 years ago. Edited by kinoglass (member) 9 years ago
I am very curious about Vivian Maier and her work. An artist of her talent and sensitivity could hardly afford to see her work thrown into a cardboard box for posterity to discover or to end uncovered in the city dump.

The story of Robert Capa comes to mind, the fictitious character created by Gerta Taro and her father to sell her pictures as the work of an American photographer who did not exist, only to became real when the trick was uncovered, Was Vivian Maier feeding her photographs to some one else? She was also a refugee from Europe, a displaced Jewish soul new to the new world culture that she so humanly reflects in her photographs. Could it be that some one else was passing as the author of her work?

May I ask, how did she support herself? Are there other signs of her life, correspondence, or indications she had contacts with the photography world? How intriguing, I say.
johnmaloof 9 years ago
Stanco55: Local papers are definitely going to be on the agenda. Being that I was in Chicago Magazine a couple of times, perhaps they may even be a good source. Thanks.

I will be patient. This discussion has motivated me to keep moving forward with her work. The response from everyone is beyond my expectations.
johnmaloof 9 years ago
Kinoglass: The only way I found her name was because it was written with pencil on a photo-lab envelope. I decided to 'Google' her name about a year after I purchased these only to find her obituary placed the day before my search. She passed only a couple of days before my Google search. How wierd?

I thought about meeting her in person prior but, the auction house had stated she was ill so, I didn't want to bother her. Soooo many questions would have been answered if I had. It eats at me from time to time.
kinoglass 9 years ago
johnmaloof, it will be perhaps important to contact the people that have disposed of her possessions and find what else is there bringing light to her past such as relatives, friends, etc., you may be in a better position before the press gets hold of the story and makes who knows what of her life. I am in the East coast. My son who lives in Chicago brought the story to my attention today.
Zuiko_Addict 9 years ago
Eastman House.
The Fiery X-Scotsman 9 years ago
Amazing work by both Vivian and you, do not give up on it.
tk-tekata (ndiginiz) 9 years ago
"The only way I found her name was because it was written with pencil on a photo-lab envelope. I decided to 'Google' her name about a year after I purchased these only to find her obituary placed the day before my search. She passed only a couple of days before my Google search. How wierd?

I thought about meeting her in person prior but, the auction house had stated she was ill so, I didn't want to bother her. Soooo many questions would have been answered if I had. It eats at me from time to time."
Wow, the story behind this gets better and better!
johnmaloof 9 years ago
I was able to track down her family photos!! They were purchased at the auction the same day. I will hopefully meet with them this week (fingers crossed).

Will definitely keep everyone posted.
~~David 9 years ago
Been really enjoying these pics over the last couple of days. What a find. Good luck with doing something decent.
instinctive earth [deleted] 9 years ago
bennehboy - i'm glad that your amused. it tells me one of two things:

a) your easily amused
b) my pathetic attempt at a gonzo reply actually carried some weight

i highly doubt that it was b), because i'm illlliterate

so my guess is your easily amused which is not actually a bad attribute for a photographer to carry with them, as it enables them to make light of everyday situations on the street.

in the context of this forum, it is also cool to have a light hearted mod/frank running the show as there are enough trigger happy admins over there at the nikon forum>
Funesphoto 9 years ago
Ok, first bet:: 2500 €.

This is my bet but if you don't like it I have others (G Marx)

johnmaloof 9 years ago
@funesphoto: no thanks.
accurate appliance [deleted] 9 years ago
I'd like to add that you thumb thru a copy of B&W magazine. Each issue has a section on collectors and the photo market. I'm not advocating buying a copy-unless it'd be a useful resource after you flip thru it. There are ads for tons of galleries, archives, studios and auctioneers that could help spread the work of this fine female artist.

So far as I can tell the print market for posthumous work is low. Most stuff that sells well is for stuff printed while the artist was alive, signed and dated.
babaea / ببعی 9 years ago
I thought the point was not selling.
johnmaloof 9 years ago
Yeah, I'm not selling. It's worth more to me than its true value at this point.
ken_dozo 9 years ago
congrats on your acquisition. don't sell. If you feel strong, then curate yourself.
findingtheview 9 years ago
I've gotta say that this has been the singularly most happy photography story that I've read about in the last month!
mario_rivera 9 years ago
amazing story! good on you for being passionate about ms maier's work. seems like fate smiled upon you to stumble upon her photos; may she smile upon you some more so more good may come out of this...
Muliang 9 years ago
wow, thank u very much for what you have done, she is truly inspiring!
Labels Project 9 years ago
carie.bauer 9 years ago
thanks so much for sharing her work...what a fantastic thing to give us all a chance to see what she saw.
Funesphoto 9 years ago

was a joke :)

Congratulations for your work
johnmaloof 9 years ago
@ everyone: Do you think I should open her blog site up for comments?

Currently, you cannot comment.
Dr Karanka 9 years ago
This seems to be spreading in the blogosphere quite nicely
amyb68 9 years ago
@johnmaloof - yes, definitely!
funkaoshi 9 years ago
Maybe open the site up for comments, but keep them moderated. Blog comments are such a magnet for spam. (And stupidness I suppose.)

I posted this over on MetaFilter. And Kottke.org seems to have found your site as well. It's a cool story.
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