Documentary: Vivian Maier, Photographer
Recently, Doug and I watched a fascinating Showtime Oscar nominated documentary entitled, Finding Vivian Maier. You can view the trailer below. Maier’s story is fascinating and many details of her life remain unknown. She was a prolific street photographer who worked as a nanny. You can view Vivian Maier’s work here. Per the documentary, working as a nanny gave Maier the freedom to explore and photograph. She always carried a camera with her and she was acutely aware of the political times and current events as she collected many newspaper articles. What makes this story so interesting is that nobody knew during her lifetime that she was a street photographer with a massive body of work, with many rolls of film that remain undeveloped. She primarily photographed the people and architecture of New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, including foreign travels. There are also many self-portraits in her body of work.
In 2007, two years after Maier’s death, John Maloof, an amateur historian, acquired some of Maier’s images along with Chicago-based collectors who found some of Maier’s prints and negatives in her boxes and suitcases around the same time in 2007. In 2009, John Maloof posted Maier’s images, which went viral on Flickr, and many people expressed interest in Maier’s work. Her work has gained international acclaim and Maier’s work has been exhibited in North America; Europe; and Asia. There are also published books of her work.
However, there is a twist to this fascinating story. There is now current ongoing litigation in Chicago that has questioned who owns the rights to Maier’s work. You can read further background information here and here. The right to create prints from the negatives remains with the photographer or the photographer’s heirs. Maier died without a will, and currently it appears that there is not enough information available about her relatives to say who is the rightful heir. So the questions remain: Who are Maier’s heirs?; and are the persons who discovered her work in 2007 illegally profiting since they do not own the rights to Maier’s work? It will be very interesting to see the outcome of this case.
The main take away from this case for artists is to be certain to have a written will clearly naming heirs; and to you register your art works with the U.S. Copyright Office. You can learn more about Vivian Maier by visiting this website.