18 Captivating Photos By The Mysterious Nanny-Photographer Of The Mid-Century

Vivian Maier’s street photography has only been unearthed and recognized in recent years. A new book and exhibition of her work will satisfy your curiosity about this secretive figure.

Vivian Maier was a nanny for over 40 years in Chicago. Little did anyone know that she had a secret passion for photography, and spent years (and hundreds of thousands of photographs) documenting streetscapes from the 1940s up through the 1970s. She had a natural ability to capture American life and moments (although she did take photos abroad as well), many of which offer a telling look into vintage New York or vintage Chicago.

Her work was only unearthed randomly by a real estate agent/historian in 2007, two years before her death. The discovery of Maier’s enormous body of work has now placed her as one of the best street photographers of the mid-century.

If you’re intrigued, there’s a documentary about Maier and the discovery of this treasure trove. A new book of her work, Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits, has also just been published. And if you’re in the L.A. area, there’s an exhibition of (largely) unseen photographs, on view at Merry Karnowsky Gallery beginning December 14.

The following is a selection of beautiful, telling, and haunting photographs from that exhibition.

ID: 2114705

1. A carriage ride in NYC in 1953.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114623

2. A couple smokes together in Milwaukee, WI.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114609

3. Waiting outside a theater in Chicago.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114610

4. Chicago in the 1950s.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114620

5. Children in a doorway in Canada.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114612

6. A woman and a man in an uncomfortable-looking interaction in Chicago.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114613

7. A voyeuristic shot of a young woman outside the New York Public Library.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114621

8. Maier captures two kids on the street in Chicago.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114608

9. A group poses in Manhattan in 1954.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114624

10. A haunting selfie Maier took in New York in 1954.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114625

11. New York hair, 1954.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114627

12. Kids playing in a fire hydrant in NYC in the summer of 1954.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114629

13. A window shopper in New York in 1954.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114631

14. New York in 1955.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114634

15. Maier captures a woman on a pay phone in 1960.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114648

16. Sailors in 1961.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114654

17. Maier captures herself in a mirror somewhere in Chicago, 1971.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114655

18. Another self-portrait in 1971.

Vivian Maier
ID: 2114656

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