The artist is absent

Last summer, when we published our magazine’s issue on secrets, I really wanted to include this story: John Maloof is an American collector who had bought a few boxes of photos at an auction. They were taken by an unknown photographer called Viviane Maier and Maloof quickly realized that he had stumbled upon a treasure: Not only were the photos very good, but nobody had ever heard about Maier.

Sitting upon boxes and boxes of her documents and photos, Maloof decided to find out who she was and to publish her photos. He discovered that Maier had worked as a nanny for most of her life, making her art as she babysat kids in the American suburbs. As it turned out, she had carried a camera almost everywhere she went, carefully shooting thousands of rolls of film. None of which she ever shared with anyone during her lifetime.

It is a fascinating story that has now been turned into movie. In it, you can not only see a ton of Maier’s impressive street photography but can also find out more about the strange, secluded life she led. If you have the chance, go see it!

Maier never made a whole lot of money during her life, and yet she spent almost all of her income on film. In a sense, she was a precursor to today’s shutter madness, artfully documenting all little aspects of life as she encountered it. Of course, since she never shared any of her pictures, Maier also acted very differently from most photographers today.

Coincidentally, the interview we never had time for in summer ended up materializing earlier today. I met John Maloof and his producer Charlie Siskel during the Berlinale and got to ask them a few questions about Maier and whether her decision not to share her work might have impacted to quality of her work. It is a question I have been mulling over ever since I saw the movie and I will post a link to the interview here as soon as it is online.

Update: Here it is.