I love image making because of the way images ask a question.
Asking a question sets in chain a narrative. Our desire to know things leads us to speculate, to draw conclusions and make assumptions. We write our own narrative for an image before us based on the little breadcrumbs that every great image has.
We write it as fast as we think it.
I’ve really been enjoying two photographers lately.
I keep coming back to the street photography of Vivian Maier. Firstly, she is a great observer. During the 50’s, 60’s and into the 70’s she amassed an incredible array of images, seemingly taken as she wandered the streets of Chicago, her adopted home town (she was French born).
She is consistently able to capture great moments of intimacy with her subjects. Street photography is such a hard form because of the relationship between photographer and subject. With Maier though, it’s like she somehow was able to freeze time and be in exactly the right spot to create moments of incredible intimacy and rapport with her subjects….subject that would have been total strangers before the moment that photograph was captured. Somehow, they never seem self conscious about a camera observing them although they are often engaged with the camera itself, looking straight down the barrel.
But there is an extra incredible dimension to her work. Her photographs were almost lost forever. A real estate agent bought her thousands of negatives and unseen and unprocessed rolls of film when they were sold off at an auction because of a payment defaults on her storage. Not really knowing anything about photography at all he began to print and process the hundreds of rolls of film she’d taken.
He’d just taken up photography himself as a hobby and he was trying to emulate the images she’d captured. He realized he had something special when he couldn’t match what was coming off the decades old unprocessed film.
Totally unknown in her own lifetime, she worked alone and anonymously for years taking thousands of photos that were never even processed till after she had died. Her images were latent and it was only sheer luck that someone decided to unearth them. He estimates that there are over 20 000 unprocessed images and we’re only a few hundred images into those.
Tragically, it turned out she had died just a few days before he processed some of her rolls. Apparently a loner, with no family and no friends to speak of and aside from working as a nanny part time, no one had seemed to know much about her.
In itself it makes you wonder about Maier herself. Why was she driven to take so many photographs over such a long time ? Why were so many of her images unprocessed and unprinted ? Was it just the actual act of taking a photograph that was the important moment to her ? If she wasn’t processing her much of work, how did she develop such a clear skill for composition and insight ? How was she able to have such a clear connection with her subjects ? How is it that she was clearly at ease with complete strangers, but seemed to have so few friends of her own ?
Great images ask great questions.
Have a look for yourself at http://www.vivianmaier.blogspot.com