I recently discovered Vivan Maier and her collection of self-portraits. In a time where everyone is snapping pictures of themselves (often drunk), it was refreshing to find a Mary Poppins-type character had been wandering around New York and Chicago from the 1950s through to the late 1990s taking snapshots. The selfie is nothing new.
In Vivan Maier Self-Portraits, Maier shows us what she saw working as a nanny to three young boys in Chicago through the 1960s and 70s. Reflections in shop windows, mirrors, hubcaps—anything that gave a window into her world—form the beautiful backdrops of these wistful images. Among my favourites are the photos she took looking through glass where her image is overlaid with that of the world beyond. There is also a clever collection of photos of her shadow—long and drawn, or across the way on a neighbouring building.
With the advent of digital photography, and the convenience of the cell phone camera, everybody today is a photographer. Steve McCurry in his newest book Untold (Phaidon) says, “They’re great. Cellphone cameras are as good as the point-and-shoots...there’s nothing you can’t photograph with digital photography.”
And so, we are now inundated with photos that everyone takes of themselves. Some are spectacular, but most are not. Perhaps we could be inspired by Vivan Maier’s intimate images and invite people into our own worlds with creativity and imagination.
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