Vivian Maier on “Imagine”…_Summer_2013_Vivian_Maier_Who_Took_Nannys_Pictures/

The incredible story of a mysterious nanny who died in 2009 leaving behind a secret hoard – thousands of stunning photographs. Never seen in her lifetime, they were found by chance in a Chicago storage locker and auctioned off cheaply.

Now Vivian Maier has gone viral and her magical pictures sell for thousands of dollars. Vivian was a tough street photographer, a secret poet of suburbia. In life she was a recluse, a hoarder, spinning tall tales about her French roots. Presented by Alan Yentob, the film includes stories from those who knew her and those who revealed her astonishing work.

Available to watch until 11:44PM Tue, 6 Aug 2013

Thank You

A quick update and ‘thank you’ to all those who attended the Photographic Archives workshop at The John Rylands on the 20th Feb – an excellent turn-out (over subscribed!) and some wonderful discussion and talks from speakers and delegates. This is clearly a topic of great interest. I’ll update again sometime this week with a bit more detail regarding the actual content of the day and where we/I hope to take the project from here – stay tuned! ……. For now, visit: for extracts from my own paper delivered on the day.

Finding Vivian Maier

This looks such a brilliant docu-film, and so well timed with the theme of our workshop event (and this project in general!)

I have to confess, I knew nothing of Vivian Maier (a friend sent me the link to the film trailer). A Chicago/ New York street photographer, it seems ‘fame’ and success alluded Ms Maier in her life time, but upon the discovery of her massive body of work in 2007  at a local thrift auction house on Chicago’s Northwest Side, Maier’s work has been the source of a wonderfully exciting research project, with the archive being reconstructed and catalogued by John Maloof.

The beautifully constructed website offers an intriguing narrative:

“There is still very little known about the life of Vivian Maier. What is known is that she was born in New York in 1926 and worked as a nanny for a family on Chicago’s North Shore during the 50s and 60s. Seemingly without a family of her own, the children she cared for eventually acted as caregivers for Maier herself in the autumn of her life. She took hundreds of thousands of photographs in her lifetime, but never shared them with anyone. Maier lost possession of her art when her storage locker was sold off for non-payment. She passed away in 2009 at the age of 83.”

I find this element of the ‘private’ photographic archive fascinating; we assume that street photographers wish to share their vision of the urban world in which they roam and loiter; that to photograph is to communicate a perspective, yet Maier kept these images hidden away. And that Maier was a female photographer, with all the history and theory surrounding the female gaze, her collection opens up yet another wonderfully interesting strand of research for those wishing to engage with photographic archives.

Thank goodness that the individual(s) who discovered Maier’s collection didn’t categorise it with the recent ‘trash’.

I can’t wait to see the film.


Movement & Event …

So, the slides for the time being have found a new home – in one of the basement rooms. Although this isn’t ideal for either access or preservation, it does at least mean that the slide collection is, for the time being, not under threat of being immediately disposed of. However, we still need to give good consideration as to how they can be integrated back into teaching (perhaps specifically in relation to histories of photographic technology) and the room itself requires some reorganisation.

The planning for the event with the John Rylands Library, Deansgate, is coming along nicely. Our working title for the event is Photographic Archives, Technologies, and Methods of Recording; each presenter fits under some aspect of that, whereby photographic technologies are artworks or research objects in themselves or are being used as a way of bringing to life or critically engaging with other existing archives. More details will be posted soon.

The ‘C’ Word

The word ‘curiosity’ seems to be cropping up in all my conversations regarding the slide collection – it might be beginning to bore some people. However, I think it’s this particular ingredient which is central to generating an exciting and dynamic subject area and department. We are all guilty of apathy at some point or another, but we should at least be curious [there it is again] about the diverse topics and objects which are available for us to explore and research (or just simply enjoy).

It’s been suggested that the shift from analogue to digital culture means we no longer require such collections – that the internet and beloved ‘Google’ offers all we could possibly require in terms of visual culture. However, although the internet and digital culture may indeed offer variety at the touch of a mouse, the images and artworks contained with such a vast collection as AHVS slide library vastly outweighs that of any online source. Likewise, you will never find such works placed together within one internet site, or indeed text-book. The slide collection is thus a physical, visual encyclopedia. Unlike books or the internet, there is an inclusiveness to a slide collection.

As so eloquently stated by Althea Greenan of the Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths:

“The process of photographing artwork, processing film, slide-mounting and labeling, suggests that the 35mm slide is a mode of image publication that has no direct equivalent today. The individual slides have physical attributes that add a layer of meaning to art documentation which takes on a different significance when accumulated into a large collection.” [A. Greenan, What can a slide collection do besides represent artwork? (2011), p. 3]

She asks crucial questions of the Women’s Art Library slide collection, which are wholly relevant for to AHVS collection: ‘How does the slide collection personalize the art experience? […] Why keep a slide collection? […]What is different about the experience of art through a slide collection to the experience of art through digital image databases? What is changed when a slide is no longer projectable?[…] What can an art slide collection do besides represent artwork?’ (Greenan, p.5, 11)

It is these kinds of questions I am constantly considering when searching through the collection when thinking about how we can use the slides as a resource within teaching. Yes, we may not always use the slides to physically project images – although there are many which could, and should, still be used; but it is the information which is contained within the collection which interests me – the vast numbers of artists and designers which never get considered because we just ‘forget’ they exist if not included within the teaching timetable

Returning to the ‘c’ word once again: I want students to be curious about their subject area; to want to glean more knowledge than what they already possess have as they hit ‘Google’. Curiosity leads to the unexpected; it leads us to new knowledge. Take advantage of resources which offer such opportunities.



‘Worktown Study’

“Washing on the Lines, Bolton” (1937), by Humphrey Spender. Photograph from the Mass Observation ‘Worktown Study’ – 75th anniversary this weekend.

For more info about the Worktown Study or Mass Observation, see: and