All of the images that you’ll find on this website are not from prints made by Maier, but rather from new scans prepared from Vivian’s negatives. This naturally leads one to the issue of artistic intent. What would Vivian have printed? How? These are valid concerns, the reason utmost attention has been given to learn the styles she favored in her work. It required meticulously studying the prints that Maier, herself, had printed, as well as the many, many notes given to labs with instructions on how to print and crop, what type of paper, what finish on the paper, etc.
Whenever her work has been exhibited, such as for the exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center, this information is factored in mind to interpret her work as closely as possible to her original process.
Jeanne Bertrand was a notable figure in Vivian’s life. Census records list her as the head of household, living together with Vivian and her mother in 1930. Jeanne’s upbringing was similar to Vivian’s – she grew up poor, lost her father while young, and worked in a needle factory in sweatshop like conditions. Yet by 1905 we can read about Jeanne Bertrand in the Boston Globe, being touted as one of the most eminent photographers of Connecticut. What makes this even more surprising is that Bertand had picked up photography only four years prior to that report. But, even if Bertrand was an early influence, it must also be noted that Bertrand was a portrait photographer. Vivian first picked up a camera in the southern French Alps in about 1949. The photographs she took were controlled portraits and landscapes. The odds are strong that Vivian might have been taught by Jeanne Bertrand.
In 1951, Vivian arrived in New York City continuing the same techniques she practiced in France with the same Kodak Brownie camera in 6×9 film format. But, in 1952, Vivian’s work changed dramatically. She began shooting with a square format. She bought an expensive Rolleiflex camera – a huge leap from the amateur box camera she first used. Her eye had changed. She was capturing the spontaneity of street scenes with precision reminiscent of Henri-Cartier-Bresson, street portraits evocative of Lisette Model and fantastic compositions similar to Andre Kertesz. 1952 was the year that that Vivian’s classic style began to take shape.
This sudden metamorphosis begs the question – what was it between 1951 and 1952 that could have triggered a switch in Vivian’s work? A potential influence could have been Lisette Model. Lisette Model was born to a French mother and Austrian father, just like Vivian. Lisette Model was a Jewish refugee, and Vivian had on occasion told some that she was one as well. Lisette Model became a teacher at the New School for Social Research at Columbia University in New York City in 1951. Vivian Maier arrived in mid-1951 from France and, shortly after, her work takes a dramatic turn. The coincidences don’t end there. The photographs show a similar school of thought as Model, per se. A definitive influence cannot be concluded, but the uncanny similarities and timing gives us fuel to work with. Requests for a class roster with the name ‘Vivian Maier’ have turned up empty in the files at the New School for Social Research records. Perhaps there is another link, but time will tell which leads will eventually pan out.