Tuesday, February 11, 2020

I've been looking at Vivian Maier's work a lot lately. While her street photography is so incredibly good, it's her self portraits that I have been studying. Just trying to get into her head. There are documentaries about her that would tell her story much better, but the important details are that she was a Chicago-based nanny who photographed for years and went undiscovered until after her death when her negatives were found. I identify with her because of her need to document. But I want to understand why she did it.

She didn't share her work with anyone. She went out and worked so hard to record not only the people around her, but she stopped to look at herself, too. Did she do it with the hope that someone would eventually see them? To leave a legacy? Did she do it to understand herself, or so others could understand her? She photographed herself enough that you can tell there was a real purpose behind it. 

I relate to feeling unknown. I know what it's like to be invisible and overlooked. For a long time, I felt an anxious need to be noticed, like maybe I have something special that just hasn't been discovered yet. A purpose that hasn't been realized. I’m not comparing my work to hers. It’s not an ego thing. I just want it to matter. Still, there is the very difficult realization that maybe if people did notice, they wouldn't care. Does that still make it worth doing? 

I wonder if Vivian preferred to keep her work to herself. Maybe she did it only for her own enjoyment. Maybe she didn’t care if her negatives were ever found. It's easier to be invisible. You can live with the happier delusion that maybe you're special and you never have to actually find out otherwise. 

Is that what I want? I don't know, but I think there are few things harder than learning that you’re not good enough. 

I will remember her and her work, whether it was her intent or not. She was like me, but from another time. It takes someone like us to really understand.