Vivian Maier haunted the city of Chicago. She took this in 1968 in the north suburbs.
  • Courtesy Photo Center NW
  • Vivian Maier haunted the city of Chicago. She took this in 1968 in the north suburbs.

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Nobody except the people who knew Vivian Maier during her quiet life as a nanny in Chicago knew that she was taking photographs constantly, amassing a collection that would become significant in the canons both of street photography and the plain old documentary history of a city. She was "discovered" after her death, and that makes for a juicy story, but ultimately, it's the work that matters or not. A fraction of her 100,000 negatives and prints are visiting Photographic Center Northwest through Saturday; I recommend checking it out.

A story like this easily leads to sentimentalization and, frankly, low standards for deciding what's interesting. Some of the pictures here really are not. At the same time, some are heightened by their backstory, especially the shadowy self-portraits—or really, any of the works that hint at a hidden side of things. What's underneath a bathing suit. What entertainments await behind a ticket window. What the face that goes with those legs looks like.

At Coney Island, circa early 1950s.
  • Courtesy Photo Center NW
  • At Coney Island, circa early 1950s.

Is Maier a master? I don't know. This show is just a sliver of what she was capable of, and uneven. Who knows what else there is? Photography is at least half editing. (Then again, what isn't?) See what you think at the gallery.

Below is one more image for now. I want to say that you can just tell this was taken by a woman, it's so in another world from a pure objectification shot like this one by Jack Welpott (NSFW) (Welpott's work is in Out [o] Fashion Photography at the Henry Art Gallery).

I love moments like this one in the show. Who else would take a shot like this one?
  • Courtesy of Photo Center NW
  • I love moments like this one in the show. Who else would take a shot like this one?

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And you can find a nice full review of the show at Vanguard Seattle here.

One more I like for its juxtaposition of the shadowy woman and the modernist Los Angeles architecture, on the jump.

Taken in 1955.
  • Courtesy Photo Center NW
  • Taken in 1955.

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