Occasionally, a game-changing moment can happen for an area of collecting. One such happened ten years ago when a collector in Chicago published an internet blog about an unknown American street photographer named Vivian Maier, who had died that year.
The reaction was viral and Maier’s genius at last emerged from the shadows.
Born in 1926, Maier never married and worked much of her life as a nanny. In 1952, she bought her first Rolleiflex camera, and thus started a remarkable amateur career during which she took hundreds of thousands of street photographs, self-portraits and other subjects that have now been recognised as being on a par with the work of the leading American photographic artists of the 20th century, like Diane Arbus, Robert Frank and Helen Levitt.
Maier’s work, now published in a series of books, resides in major public and private collections, with several documentaries on her committed to film.
This has naturally done wonders for the value of prints and plates of her images, but it has also attracted huge numbers of people to the field of street photography and vernacular photography – anonymous everyday scenes of life from yesteryear – which has become a buzzing market at auction, at fairs and dealing online.
It’s not often that you can pin down the beginnings of something big to such a precise date, but that 2009 blog was certainly the catalyst here.