PostHeaderIcon Vivian Maier: A Mystery Inside an Enigma

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier

What began as a tantalizing mystery is now being transformed into an industry. I refer to the curious case of Vivian Maier, the reclusive, North Shore nanny who, since her death in 2006, has gained posthumous acclaim as a great street photographer that eluded her in life.

She has, in recent years, occupied center stage in numerous exhibitions, books, museum programs and now dueling documentaries. In the end, she remains, in the words Winston Churchill spoke about Russia, “a mystery, wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.” We seemingly cannot get enough details about her and her strange life: Who was she? Where did she gain such photographic skill? What brought her to Chicago?

If you have not heard this woman’s story by now, about her move from New York City in the 1950s and her job as a nanny for 40 years to support her passion for photography, you must not be getting out much. There are exhibitions on view now at the Harold Washington Library plus at the Chicago History Museum.

Let me recommend what looks like a well-produced program this Sunday, July 27th, at The Clive Carney Art Gallery in the College of DuPage’s McAninch Arts Center, Glen Ellyn. “An Afternoon with Vivian Maier” will begin with a screening at 1 p.m. of Jill Nicholls’ award-winning BBC documentary, “The Vivian Maier Mystery” (there’s that word again!).

Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion Jeffrey Goldstein, one of three original owners of a large trove of Ms. Maier’s photographs which were found in storage after her death and auctioned off (Maier had apparently been unable to afford developing hundreds of rolls of her street photographs). Other panelists include Frank Jackowiak, co-curator of the Carney galley exhibit and master printers Ron Gordon and Sandy Steinbrecher. The event ends with a gallery walk-through by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams, authors of their book of Maier photos, “Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows”.

This program accompanies the gallery’s show of Maier works that runs through August 16th. After this immersion in all things Maier, you will emerge more enlightened but still haunted by this unknowable artist. Tickets for Sunday’s program are $10 and can be obtained by calling the McAninch Arts Center box office at 630/942-4000 or visiting

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