Sunday, January 31, 2021

Vivian Dorothea Maier, the Unknown Chicagoland Urban Photographer.

When John Maloof, a real estate agent, amateur historian, and garage-sale obsessive, acquired a box of photographic materials and personal detritus at an auction in suburban Chicago in 2007, he quickly realized that he had stumbled upon an unknown master of street photography. But despite his vigorous snooping, he could find no record of Vivian Maier, the name scribbled on the scraps of paper that he found among the negatives, prints, and undeveloped rolls of film. He tracked down the rest of the boxes emptied from an abandoned storage garage, amassing a collection of hundreds of thousands of frames shot in New York, Chicago, France, South America, and Asia between the nineteen-fifties and the nineteen-seventies. 

Two years after he bought the first box, he Googled the name again and, to his surprise, found an obituary announcing that Vivian Maier had died only a few days before. The short text had just enough information for Maloof to deduce that Maier had worked as a nanny in suburban Chicago.
My Personal Favorite Vivian Maier Photograph. What a Happy Cat.

Vivian Dorothea Maier was born in New York, New York, on February 1, 1926. She spent much of her childhood in France, starting at the age of four in 1930. She briefly lived in close quarters with a noted female photographer, Jeanne Bertrand, who may have taught the young Maier how to take pictures when she was a girl. After 1949 she moved back to New York City, learning English by going to movie theaters.

In 1951 she came to Chicago to work as a nanny for a North Shore family. She worked for several north shore families over the next 40 years. Maier was a very private person who pursued her photography interest in her spare time and on days off. She never showed her photographs to anyone.
Vivian Maier Self Portrait

Most of Maier's photographs were taken with twin-lens Rolleiflex cameras. The Rolleiflex camera's viewfinder is top-down, so it is held inconspicuously at hip height, looking down. Maier was able to capture fleeting moments and turned them into something extraordinary.

Vivian Maier’s first camera was a modest Kodak Brownie box camera with one shutter speed, no aperture, and focus control. In 1952 she purchased her first Rolleiflex camera. Over the course of her career, she used Rolleiflex 3.5T, Rolleiflex 3.5F, Rolleiflex 2.8C, Rolleiflex Automat, and others. She later also used a Leica IIIc, an Ihagee Exakta, a Zeiss Contarex, and various other SLR cameras. 

Maier used mostly Kodak Tri-X and Ektachrome film. 
Rolleiflex Camera
It seems that, for Maier, the nanny’s life allowed her to be with people, but not of them. She actively cultivated her own unknowability, perhaps as a way to maintain this separateness. She never spoke of a desire to make a living as a photographer. In Chicago, where she lived for decades, she refused to give film processors and pawn shopkeepers her real name instead of handing out fake names everywhere. She demanded separate locks for her rooms in her employers’ houses and forbade anyone from ever entering her space. She didn’t mention family or old friends. She lied about where she was born, claiming France as her homeland (she was born in New York City), and spoke with a contrived Continental accent that no one could place. She dressed in an outdated style, like a Soviet factory worker from the 1950s. An acquaintance recalls asking Vivian what she did for a living. Her response: “I’m a sort of spy.”

Her archives of pictures, films, and voice recordings reveal a fascination with rape and murder, urban blight and the ravages of poverty, the brutality of the city stockyards, and political unrest. 

There’s no disputing that Maier was peculiar and prickly and that her interests spanned the benign and the morbid. But she was neither a Mary Poppins nor a surrogate Mommie Dearest. The people who knew her described impenetrability that, even in retrospect, threatens the fantasy that people who choose to care for children are all hugs and rainbows.

Maier had neither money nor connections, but she had control over how she lived, what she looked at, and what she photographed.

Her photographs (see Chicago and Illinois photo album below) of the urban and suburban streets track the fluctuations of the economy, the growth of the city, the cycles of the seasons, the emotions in the faces of the children she cared for, the way her own body advanced through the years. She chose her job not because she especially loved children, but because of the life it enabled her to have, what it allowed her to see. She valued her freedom above all. Her art and profession have more in common than they may initially seem. She was a perpetual outsider, and she liked it that way. She moved among people but did not belong to any of them. She was close but not entangled. She could always walk away.

Maier spent the late fifties and sixties traveling and photographing the world alone. It seemed that, on those trips, Maier was the freest she had ever been and ever would be. That’s how she wanted to see herself. And she did.
Well, I suppose nothing is meant to last forever. We have to make room for other people. It’s a wheel. You get on, you have to go to the end. And then somebody has the same opportunity to go to the end and so on.   —Vivian Dorothea Maier
She lived her final years in the Rogers Park community of Chicago and was unknown and impoverished. It was not until after her death in 2009 that her life’s work was accidentally discovered. Since then, her photographs have been exhibited throughout the world.

Her pictures help us to understand that Maier wasn't invisible except to us. She was looking at herself all along.

Vivian Dorothea Maier died on April 21, 2009, in Oak Park, Illinois. She was cremated and had her ashes scattered, Specifically by the Gensburg sons, likely in the Catherine Chevalier Woods in the Forest Preserves of Cook County, near Chicago's O'Hare Airport. 
Finding Vivian Maier | 2015 Oscar Nominee | Official Trailer

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Maxwell Street, Chicago, Illinois, 1962
What are these kids looking at?
Hull House, Chicago, IL., January 31, 1963.
Kiddieland, Sandwich, IL., September 1966.
Vivian Maier Self Portraits
Vivian Maier’s first camera was a modest Kodak Brownie box camera with one shutter speed, no aperture, and focus control. In 1952 she purchased her first Rolleiflex camera. Over the course of her career, she used Rolleiflex 3.5T, Rolleiflex 3.5F, Rolleiflex 2.8C, Rolleiflex Automat, and others. She later also used a Leica IIIc, an Ihagee Exakta, a Zeiss Contarex, and various other SLR cameras. Maier used mostly Kodak Tri-X and Ektachrome film. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Too many American and Illinois families were affected by the Holocaust. May God rest their souls.
A visit will totally change your perspective on life.
The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, Illinois, is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Holocaust by honoring the memories of those who were lost and by teaching universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice, and indifference. The museum fulfills its mission through the exhibition, preservation, and interpretation of its collections and through education programs and initiatives that promote human rights and the elimination of genocide.
Prisoners at Ebensee Concentration Camp in 1945. Ebensee was a subcamp of the Mauthausen concentration camp established by the Nazi SS to build tunnels for armaments storage near the town of Ebensee, Austria, in 1943. The camp held a total of 27,278 male inmates from 1943 until 1945. Between 8,500 and 11,000 prisoners died in the camp, most from hunger or malnutrition.

When neo-Nazis threatened to march in Skokie in the late 1970s, Holocaust survivors worldwide were shocked. They realized that they could no longer remain silent despite their desire to leave the past behind. In the wake of these attempted marches, Chicago-area survivors joined together to form the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois. They purchased a small Skokie storefront and made it available to the public, especially to schoolchildren, focusing on combating hate with education.

The 65,000 square-foot Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center that opened on April 19, 2009, is a culmination of 30 years of hard work by the local Holocaust survivor community. According to President Emeritus Sam Harris said, “We dreamt of creating a place that would not only serve as a memorial to our families that perished and the millions lost but also where young minds could learn the terrible dangers of prejudice and hatred.”

To ensure that young minds continue to learn these lessons, the organization successfully secured the 1990 passage of the Holocaust Education Mandate, making Illinois the first state to require Holocaust education in public schools. In 2005, the organization again expanded this mandate; the Holocaust and Genocide Education Mandate now requires Illinois schools to teach about all genocides.

The Illinois Holocaust Museum not only honors the memory of the millions who were murdered during the Holocaust, but it also salutes the courage and resilience of the survivors. They are the people who rebuilt their lives and awoke the conscience of humanity so that none of us may ever forget. For them, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center carry out their founding principle: Remember the Past, Transform the Future.

El Malei Rachamim (“God full of compassion”) is a prayer for the departed that asks for comfort and everlasting care of the deceased. It is recited at funeral services, but different versions exist for different moments. The version of the Shoah (Holocaust) can be found in the Reform prayer book, Mishkan T’filah. Listen to the liturgy, which is translated here:

Fully compassionate God on high:
To our six million brothers and sisters
murdered because they were Jews,
grant clear and certain rest with You
in the lofty heights of the sacred and pure
whose brightness shines like the very glow of heaven.

Source of mercy:
Forever enfold them in the embrace of Your wings;
secure their souls in eternity.
Adonai: they are Yours.
They will rest in peace.
The Jewish Reform Prayer Book, Mishkan T’filah.
01) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
02) Amud Aish Memorial Museum, Brooklyn, New York
03) Breman Museum, Atlanta, Georgia
04) CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Terre Haute, Indiana
05) Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education & Tolerance, Texas
06) Desert Holocaust Memorial, Palm Desert, California
07) El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center, Texas
08) Esther Raab Holocaust Museum & Goodwin Education Center, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
09) Florida Holocaust Museum (St. Petersburg)
10) Holocaust and Tolerance Museum, Chandler, Arizona
11) Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
12) Holocaust Center for Humanity, Seattle, Washington
13) Holocaust Center of Northern California (San Francisco)
14) Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
15) Holocaust Documentation & Education Center, Dania Beach, Florida
16) Holocaust Memorial Center, Farmington Hills, Michigan
17) Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio, Texas
18) Holocaust Memorial, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
19) Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education, Suffern, New York
20) Holocaust Museum & Cohen Education Center, Naples, Florida
21) Holocaust Museum & Learning Center, St. Louis, Missouri
22) Holocaust Museum Houston, Texas
23) Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, Skokie
24) Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Museum, Tucson, Arizona
25) Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust
26) Museum of History and Holocaust Education, Kennesaw, Georgia
27) Museum of Jewish Heritage, Manhattan, New York
28) Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center, Cincinnati, Ohio
29) New Mexico Holocaust & Intolerance Museum, Albuquerque
30) New Mexico Holocaust Museum and Gellert Center for Education, Albuquerque
31) Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, Portland
32) Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center, Providence, Rhode Island
33) Stuart Elenko Holocaust Museum at the Bronx High School of Science, Bronx, New York
34) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Midwest, Highland Park, Illinois
35) Virginia Holocaust Museum, Richmond
36) William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum, Atlanta, Georgia

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.