ON THE TAIL of Kodachrome’s farewell last week, I’ve been having compare-and-contrast conversations with my photographer friends about photography vs. reporting/writing. Journalists and photojournalists of late feel as if we’ve been clipped with some sort of endangered species tag: It’s not “writing” its “content” it’s not a picture “made” but one uploaded from somewhere else, or taken, on the fly, from one’s smart phone.
“Everyone’s a photographer now!” one of my particularly gifted friends asserted.
“And everyone’s a writer, too.”
You don’t need a shingle let alone a storefront — you just need a URL to set up shop.
This conversation coincided with a flurry of more press around a new show opening in Chicago featuring the work of nanny-cum-photographer, Vivian Maier, who spent her free hours documenting street-life in Chicago from the 1950s well into the ’90s. Maier died in obscurity. A friend and editor of mine flagged the work for me a while ago. I was swept up in these images that feel mid-thought, mid-step, mid-gesture: life stopped-down to the moment before, the moment. They are full of soul and whimsy and sadness.
John Maloof, who now holds 95% of Maier’s work, work he acquired via pure serendipity, has set now set up a blog dedicated to it.
Maloof writes in his “about this site” copy block:
I acquired Vivian’s negatives while at a furniture and antique auction. From what I know, the auction house acquired her belongings from her storage locker that was sold off due to delinquent payments. I didn’t know what ‘street photography’ was when I purchased them.
The video below tells Maier’s story, but the other conversation that it has pointed to (as you’ll see on the comment pages following the video) is yet another swirling discussion about analog vs. digital. It’s an interesting set of what ifs. “What if Maier had had a Tumblr?” another, arguing for the other side, “what if all of her work were on thumb drives or other data-saving devices that were out of date and couldn’t be read?”
Yes, what if? And what if Maloof hadn’t picked up the trove? What if he hadn’t paused to work his way through the boxes? Or, even, was the sort to even have the inclination to do so? What is for sure is that we are lucky that both Maier and he had discerning enough eyes to recognize the value in what passed before them.
That’s the difference between “everyone” and those who are born to it. It’s not just what we see but how we see.