It’s the biggest mystery to hit the photography world in years. A historian purchases a box of negatives at an auction, not knowing much about photography. He quickly discovers, however, that the images are far beyond ordinary.
In fact, he soon realizes that he has uncovered a truly masterful photographer, completely unknown to the world.
Who is Vivian Maier? A nanny? A photographer? A traveler? Time will tell, as the historian goes forward, documenting her story in film.
But for now, we have the opportunity to study her work, and try to figure out what she might have taught us.
1. Document Your World
Vivian’s work is best described as street photography, a style of shooting that documents people in candid situations, in public places. That sounds a bit drab, but it’s actually anything but.
Documenting your world gives an incredible look at the life and times of real people, right now. It’s a subject that you are uniquely suited to. You know your world better than anyone else, so show it to us!
Not only is it rewarding to create art out of your every day, but it’s also important work. Consider yourself a photographic historian, and preserve life as it exists today.
At the very least your grandkids will find it fascinating!
2. Use Anything
You don’t need a fancy schmancy digital camera to take great photos. Vivian used a gorgeous twin lens medium format camera to shoot her images.
She didn’t have a camera phone in her pocket at all times. She wasn’t able to take hundreds of photos every day. She couldn’t see what the shot looked like, and whether she should redo it.
You have so many advantages with your modern camera. It doesn’t matter how many megapixels or lenses you have. Just shoot!
3. Shoot Thoughtfully
With a medium format film camera you get about 12 shots to a roll. Can you believe that?? A modern memory card can store thousands of photos!
Think about going out on a photo walk only being able to shoot a couple dozen photos, maximum. Would you shoot differently?
Probably. You’d probably slow down, take more time with each photo, and think more. Use that experience to strengthen your work. Put effort into each and every frame.
4. Share Your Work
Part of the joy of photography is sharing your images with others. Many people today love Vivian’s work, and sadly, she’ll never know it.
She left many rolls of film undeveloped and unseen by even herself!
You need to do something with your photos. It’s easier than ever to get them out there, with websites, blogs, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter. And easier than ever to print and create albums.
Don’t leave your photos to sit on your harddrives, never to be enjoyed. We all do it—we get busy with a million other things—but make a point to print out your own work. Choose a day every month to print out a new batch of images, if for no other reason than to enjoy them yourself.
Your photos are worth it.
5. Stand In Front Of Interesting Stuff
Here’s a great quote for you:
If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff. – Jim Richardson
Vivian travelled across the world, to places like Egypt, Thailand, Italy, France, Vietnam, Indonesia and more. She sought out interesting things to stand in front of.
Traveling is one of the most photographically inspiring things you can do. A new city, a new culture, new streets, new buildings. You won’t be able to put your camera down.
But that’s not the only way to see fascinating things. Great photos can be had in your hometown. Just go to the places where life happens. Markets, squares, downtown—go to where the action is, and you’ll find interesting stuff!
6. Be Organized
It is seriously sad that Vivian didn’t get a chance to enjoy a lot of her own work, with many rolls left undeveloped. Luckily things are much easier for you.
Start with Lightroom, it’s a solid program for both editing, and creating your personal archive. Develop a well organized system that allows you to easily find and view your images, with tags, collections and more.
Photos become more valuable the older they are. Keep your work well archived, and you’ll quickly develop a very valuable asset for yourself.
7. Understand the Power of Black and White
The majority of Vivian’s work is in black and white. This doesn’t make it less interesting whatsoever. In fact, the lack of colour makes her images MORE interesting.
In black and white, many critical elements of a photograph become more visible. The composition is front and center, and contrast, shapes, textures, lines, timing and expression are brought forward. With a strong eye for balance, her work really shines in the black and white world.
Perhaps black and white is so visually interesting to us because we simply don’t see the world in black and white. It’s automatically different, and, when you play to the strenghts of the medium, it’s truly a powerful way to present your vision.
Vivian took over 100,000 images on film. She was probably a master after the first 20,000. Imagine what level of photography she was producing after 90,000?
You have to practice. You have to shoot. You won’t improve unless you put in the time, so pick up your camera and get out there!
Bonus! Be Yourself
Be yourself! What does that have to do with photography? Well, it’s simple. You have an unique perspective on what you think is interesting in this world. So shoot that. Don’t worry whether or not others will think it’s interesting. If you think it’s neat, shoot it.
When you look through Vivian’s work you get a window into who she was. It’s truly incredible. She shot for herself, and no one else, and the images were the better for it.
There is so much you can learn from this amazing photographer. Spend some time looking through her work, and see if you can find any more lessons!
Then share them in the comments below!
The first time I saw the photo on the right I literally laughed out loud. That’s the mark of a fantastic image, it gives you a true emotional reaction. She definitely seems like she had a keen sense of humor!
All images in this post by Vivian Maier, copyright under Maloof Collection, Ltd. and via http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/
To see more of Vivian’s work you can also check out Vivian Maier Prints Inc., a group dedicated to making her life and legacy available to the public. They have a ton of her work, and are holding exhibitions as well!