“Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness, bareheaded, shovelling, wrecking, planning, building, breaking, rebuilding,” wrote poet Carl Sandburg in 1914 about Chicago, in an ode the city’s industrial beauty.

It was the same atmosphere that author and historian John Maloof was aiming to portray in Portage Park, his book about the forgotten NorthWest Side. On the look for vintage material for this project, he visited an old auction house in search of photographs and purchased a box of undeveloped film that belonged to photographer Vivian Maier. Today, the photos acclaimed by critics will showcase in an exhibition at the Westport Arts Center.

Self-portrait © Vivian Maier/Maloof collection courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery
With a body of work dating up to the 1990s, Vivian Maier – A Lifetime of Photographs chronicles the mysterious woman, full-time nanny and covert photographer in her spare time. The images made her widely recognised in the international art scene, but only posthumous.

In 2007, Maloof purchased Maier’s negatives for 380 dollars and while developing them, discovered scenes of unexpected, raw beauty and decided to upload them to Flickr. The mostly black-and-white photographs capture the everyday scenarios of the citizens of New York and Chicago. The majority document faces at their most vulnerable, unaware they were being photographed. The pictures garnered such success that it led Maloof to retrace the image-maker’s life which inspired the documentary, Finding Vivian Maier.

Self-taught, Maier began experimenting with photography on the streets of New York and over 100,000 negatives have been discovered over a period of thirty years; her most prominent and impressive work dates back to the 70s.

June 1954, New York © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery 

She grew up coy and reserved and worked as a nanny for over four decades, first in New York and then in Chicago’s North Shore. She died in 2009 at the age of 83 and always kept her practice hidden. It is one of the families she worked for that helped Maloof frame her life and find information about the photographer.

Maier had an eye for determined scenes, and a precise aesthetic, directing her shutter on the part of humanity often ignored. She had a sharp technique and was moved by a resolute passion. She captured the troublesome, the underworld, the ordinary, the dust, the dirt and the city’s poverty.

The exhibit, set up in the Westport Arts Center, figures over seventy of her most acclaimed photographs, both in colour and black and white, shot over years of relentless activity and portraying with poetry and reverence an urban, gritty, often hidden face of America.

Vivian Maier – a Lifetime of Photographs at the Westport Arts Center, Westport, USA is on until November 10, 2017, between 10.00 am – 5.00 pm.