on stealing images: the photographs of vivian maier

The story of Vivian Maier rivals that of Henry Darger. A nanny-cum-street photographer who worked in obscurity her entire life is discovered after her death in 2009. Caches and caches of negatives revealing such talent, she’s been compared to WeeGee and Diane Arbus. And for good reason.

After I began to look through her various portfolios, New York 1 and 2, specifically, both shot in the 1950s, I noticed a number of her subjects had that hostile look of a person accosted by a camera. The person wielding it trying to steal a shot without consent. Its always been a tricky question for me, the ethics of that. I love a candid photo as much as anyone, but I’ve never felt comfortable aiming a camera at strangers. Still, the results can be brilliant. What do you think?

Some of the images I’ve selected don’t convey overt shock/irritation, but their subjects are still being taking advantage of (kids can’t consent, and street people can’t escape). Regardless, intention has to count, and I think Maier’s was innocent/honorable enough. See for yourself. At the end is a self-portrait she shot in a subway mirror. Funny to see what was at the other end of that lens, and to turn the gaze back onto Maier (maybe she was aware of this herself). It balances the power out a little:)