Photos capture Chicago streets, 50s to 70s

January 17, 2011 10:00:00 PM PST
A lifelong nanny, Vivian Maier, was also a photographer who captured images of Chicago's streets and people.

The exhibit, "Finding Vivian Maier. . . Chicago Street Photographer," tells the story of Chicago's streets and its people as seen by Maier, a private person who lived in the shadows. Her work was discovered after she died at the age of 83.

"Very private person and we don't know that she ever shared her photographs with anyone ... much less galleries or museums," said Lanny Silverman, chief curator of exhibitions. "And it's just the beginning."

Maier was a Chicago area nanny, mostly working on the North Shore for more than 40 years. On her off days she would walk the streets of Chicago. Those who know her say she had a hidden personality and talent.

The photos, taken during the 1950s and 1960s, were discovered after her death in 2009.

"She did do a wide range of race, of class. And there are some homeless people and well to do people. She was fascinated by all manner of people," said Silverman.

A Chicagoan, John Maloof, found Maier's 100,000 photos and negatives at an auction. He realized their value and is now showing them.

"I think her best photographs rank up with anyone in the history of photography. I got confirmation of that from some real photo experts," said Silverman.

Only 1,000 of Maier's photos have been sorted through.

"This story has just exploded and gotten to the point where people are aware of it. Now it's time for photo historians and curators to take the next step," said Silverman.

The free exhibit is at the Chicago Cultural Center, (, until April 3.

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