Very Serious Notes from A Photo Exhibition

This post is sponsored by my love for street photography and secret obsession with private people/hoarders.

Untitled — Vivian Maier

Alternative titles:

“How I feel about making a LinkedIn”
“How I feel after fifteen minutes in a shopping mall”
“How I feel when no one wants to dance”
“How Ryan Lochte felt on his way home?”
“How I feel when someone asks me if Americans eat vegetables”
“How I looked after Spain’s last elections”

I went to the Vivian Maier exhibition at Fundación Canal in Madrid before I went home this summer and I could not contain my laughter when I saw this photo. I must have stood in front of it for a solid five minutes, which in exhibition time is: yo foreal, can you get the hell out of the way? I committed it to memory and used my hotel reservation, the only paper I could find, to write myself a reminder: “Whatever you do, do not forget Viv’s crying boy.” I imagined I looked art student chic doing that, but if anyone was watching they’d have seen the truth: a sweaty weirdo laughing alone at the museum. 

Vivian’s story is fascinating in all of my favorite ways. An eccentric woman by all accounts, she spent most of her adult life working as a nanny in Chicago. She also spent that time waltzing through the streets with her camera, amassing over one-hundred thousand photos and a good bit of super 8 film footage. She had a sharp eye for the strange, beautiful, and ugly things that pulse through every city. The strange part is that she kept the photos, film, and negatives under lock and key. They were discovered two years prior to her death by a young man at an auction (a la Storage Wars) who paid 400 dollars for the lot. In an age when even our most mundane moments are Instagrammed and #inspiring, the things people don’t share take on a special intrigue. So it probably goes without saying that there’s a lot of speculation about her motives. There’s even a documentary about it, which I haven’t seen and probably won’t. As far as anyone knows, she never tried to sell or exhibit her work, so her posthumous fame is almost offensive, the ultimate betrayal of American ambition.

Mystery aside, her photos are well worth seeing. The exhibition in Madrid is over, but there are quite a few others around the world.

Stay blessed,

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