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Vivian Maier - a rediscovered archive of American life

22nd May 2012

Photographer Vivian Mailer recorded some of the most interesting marvels and peculiarities of Urban America in the second half of the twentieth century.

But what makes Mailer's story (and pictures) all the more fascinating is that she was a full time nanny and her archive of photos and negatives only came to light in 2007 when her work was discovered at a local thrift auction house in Chicago.

An American of French and Austro-Hungarian extraction, nanny Vivian Mailer moved to New York City in 1951.

In her spare time she would comb the streets of the Big Apple snapping daily life. In 1956 Vivian left the East Coast for Chicago, where she'd spend most of the rest of her life working as a nanny, hiding her photography talents from the eyes of others.

Taking snapshots right into the late 1990's, Maier left behind a body of work comprising over 100,000 negatives. It encompassed "interesting bits of Americana, the demolition of historic landmarks for new development, the unseen lives of ethnics and the destitute, as well as some of Chicago's most cherished sites".

Maier fell upon hard times and was ultimately saved by three of the children she had nannied earlier in her life. They pooled together to pay for an apartment for their fondly-remembered nanny but unbeknownst to them, one of her repossessed storage lockers was auctioned off. In those storage lockers lay the massive hoard of negatives Maier secretly stashed throughout her lifetime.

Maier's massive body of work only came to light when in 2007 it was stumbled upon at a local thrift auction house on Chicago's Northwest Side by John Maloof - a champion of her work, he has since worked tirelessly to bring it to the public eye.

Now, roughly 90% of her archive has been reconstructed. Find out more at



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