The fairy tale story of the discovery of the Vivian Maier archive by John Maloof made a lovely end to the Format 2011 conference. A good yarn, the story begins in Chicago, in 2007, with successful estate agent John Maloof discovering a box of work by hitherto-unknown photographer Vivian Maier in an auction whilst looking for documents about the local history of his area.
This box of work sets John on a dual voyage of discovery. The first, that of the life and work of Vivian Maier herself, sees John gradually rescue an entire archive and bring to light the marvellous images of an eccentric but very talented nanny who continuously made work throughout the best part of the twentieth century. The second, parallel, journey, is the one where John discovers photography himself, teaches himself photography through the work of Vivian Maier, and quickly becomes a knowledgeable source as he tracks back through Vivian’s life and work, and the changes and influences which he begins to recognise: for instance, she goes from using an amateurish Brownie to an expensive, professional, Rolleiflex in 1952, and he theorises that, being in New York at the same time as Lisette Model and Berenice Abbott, there could be a correlation, if not a direct influence there, as some of her work bears a marked similarity to Model’s own. A lovely, heart-warming tale indeed, which we all look forward to hearing more about.