Unless you're new to photography or have been living under a rock, chances are you know or have at least heard the name Vivian Maier. An eccentric lady who left behind a legacy of over one hundred thousand images. Pictures that give us an insight in to American social history via the genre known as street photography.
I first heard of Vivian back in the summer of 2013 while watching a BBC documentary which explored some of her work and her life. Whether someone appreciates photography or not, you can't help but be fascinated by Vivian's story.
What I found jaw dropping was the shear volume of pictures she had taken over her lifetime. The vast rolls of film left undeveloped in boxes. All that work squirrelled away in a storage locker never to be seen. However the time came when she couldn't keep up the rental payments. And in true 'storage hunters' spirit the locker was cleared out and her life's work auctioned off.
John Maloof was among a handful of buyers who on auction day purchased boxes and crates belonging to a then unknown photographer. John's efforts and foresight have in short played a vital role in making Vivian Maier one of the most well known and respected names in street photography, and indeed photography in general.
After watching the documentary I had a desire to follow similar steps as Vivian and invested in a Rolliecord TLR. Just to experience for myself the pleasure of working with a medium format camera. I truly appreciate the value of traditional photography. For me, there is a sense of excitement and intrigue finding negatives I've not seen before. Negatives kicking about in the family album or lurking lost and forgotten in a basement somewhere. Today, you can even pickup job lots of negatives at varying prices from eBay.
Some of you may already know that I have concerns over digital photography. Concerns regarding the longevity of our work in it's digital state. I started this post talking about Vivian Maier for a reason. Not just because I appreciate her work. But because she is a perfect example of how our digital age could do away with photographic treasure troves, like that of what Vivian left behind.
Imagine for a moment that digital photography existed at the start of Vivian's life. All those images she took stored on USB sticks, memory cards and hard drives. Had that been the case, I think there is every chance we would never have known she existed.
Why do I think that? Well, for starters technology evolves, and evolves fast! If you came across a 7" floppy disk at a boot/garage sale, would you bother giving it a second glance? Who of us would go to the effort of buying said floppy disk not knowing what was on it? Then trying to find a working disk drive with which to read it. The challenge of hooking up this old tech to our modern hardware and operating systems. Oh, and then finding software capable of recognising the old file formats. It would take a lot of effort and skill of which I really can't see the average Jo willing or able to do. The reality is these storage devices will age, decay, fail or get broken up for raw materials. Imagine, all of Vivian Maier's work, all one hundred thousand images lost forever due to our inevitable technological progression.
It doesn't take much to pickup a negative and realise what it is you're holding. No matter where technology takes us, photographic film can always be seen by the human eye.
Unless we take measures to produce our images in some physical form, then how many Vivian Maiers could go unknown in future generations? I for one will continue to use traditional film photography in my work. Who knows, perhaps some of my images might get found in 40 years!
In addition the the link above you can also check out Artsy.net which showcases a collection of her work and news for upcoming exhibitions including exclusive articles.