Street Photography – Vivian Maier

Although I have seen trailers of the documentary about Vivian Maier, and I knew a little bit about her work, I had never actually looked closely at her photographs. Just spent the last hour scrolling through her website and I have to say that I am very impressed with her images. Apart from the quality and diversity I find the fact that she was such a private person very fascinating. In our day and age where every moment needs to be photographed and shown online, it is striking to ponder on a photographic practice that is exclusively done for private enjoyment. I wonder what her motives were, it did seem that she was a bit of hoarder, maybe she wanted to hoard her visual memories as well. For no particular reason, just to bring meaning to her life, even though it was not shared with many others.

Here are 5 images that stood out particularly for me for having surrealistic elements.

  1. The photo with the dove plays a visual trick on the viewer. Because the edges of the wall, or pavement, is not visible, it is difficult to decipher from which angle the photo is taken. This brings about a strange feeling when look at it for too long. Also the symmetric composition and strong contrast adds to the eery feeling.
  2. Because of the compression of the image, this image has fascinating layers of people, buildings and cars that are all connected and give a strange effect to the scale of the subjects. The image has a strong narrative of the old making place for the modern and humankind being in charge of it all. Because of the triangular shape of the destroyed building, the photograph has a theatrical element to it, accentuating the narrative of old making place for new.
  3. The interior of this bar is very surreal to begin with. I start to wonder immediately where the photo is taken what is exactly going on. Instead of seeing fish in a big aquarium, the bar looks out on a pool and underwater. The decadence of the bar, the idea of what can be seen underwater and implications of being locked up become very clear and give the viewer a very uncomfortable feeling.
  4. This image reminds me very much of an image by Edward Weston, where he photographs his girlfriend in the desert. Again, the shapes of the ocean, the man horizontally in the front of the frame and the high contrast give this image a very surrealistic feeling. Instead of conveying the idea of a nice day on the beach, one questions why this man is lying here and what it means. The image has a dark mood to it, even though it was taken around 12 in broad daylight.
  5. This image reminds me a lot of a self portrait of Escher and a self portrait of Rene Margritte. It plays with the way we see ourselves, how reflections can distort the way we look and who we are. I find it interesting how in this image Maier shows that she is capable of creating similar effects as such famous artists. She is aware of her skills and talents, but also shows her self image is interpretable in many ways.
Collection, M. (2016b) Vivian Maier photographer | official website of Vivian Maier | Vivian Maier portfolios, prints, exhibitions, books and documentary film. Available at: (Accessed: 27 January 2017)
September 1954



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