Saturday, March 23, 2013

Vivian Maier and Sins of Omission

Vivian Maier, street photographer, c. 1950s

In all the reading I have done about Vivian Maier, the celebrated photographers (many of whom cannot touch her work - e.g., Mary Ellen Mark) and critics who now fawn over her work, all offer many theories as to why she never put her work out there.  Most are plausible: She was rather private, she lived for the trip of the shutter, not the adulation, and so on.

Yet, what goes unspoken in the thousands of words I've read is this: Vivian Maier was an intelligent, educated woman, yet took menial jobs to finance her own photography.  It would be wrong to say she was not ambitious. However, Maier kept her only work to herself and a few close acquaintances. Perhaps she understood the very nature of the sort of people who run the fine arts photography racket.

Perhaps Maier, living in New York and Chicago, had taken her portfolio around.  And, perhaps after the first couple dozen times being shown the door by the curator-in-black-turtleneck types, she gave up trying. 

Perhaps she got bitterly resentful of seeing lesser talents lauded because they had the social skills she lacked - running the gamut from schmoozing, sycophancy, making Faustian bargains, domineering, to backbiting - to "make it" in the gallery scene and the Museum of Modern Art.

And now, that she is dead, her estate having been purchased for a song by people who are at present living the good life, after she spent the last decade of her life living in penury, scraping by on her Social Security checks. 

The people now making a very comfortable living off her abandoned negatives and prints have brought in all sorts of the hangers-on of the art scene to laud her in death.  How magnanimous they are. Now.

I wonder what kind of experience Maier had when she approached the forebears of these taste-makers and gatekeepers of the art world.  I wonder if she even approached them at all.  Perhaps she was onto them, all along, and knew she would never last a moment among all those social climbers.

As long as this possibility goes unspoken (and it certainly is going unspoken, not even the bread crumbs of hints have been strewn in the wake of her sudden posthumous fame) - from people who know damn well what game they are playing, and who haven't the consciences to care when they crush the aspirations of young artists, and who call people who've already made it "emerging artists," we cannot help but assume that the praise they're heaping on her now is to cover their own asses and assets.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Small Town U.S.A.

A few of my favorite things: Film, the Southwest, and small towns. Put them all together and I'm in heaven. I love capturing the small town feel of the places out in the Southwest that don't look like they've changed in 40 years. These mom and pop stores are the heartbeat of America and it's sad to see them being over-shadowed by big corporations. This photo was taken about 13 years ago and I wonder if that business is still there?

Photo Specs: U.S. Route 87 (Business), Stockdale, Texas, 2000