A packed crowd at Powerhouse last Friday night for John Maloof’s presentation of Vivian Maier photos, promoting his book, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer. It’s an odd situation to say the least: Maier having passed just after her work was discovered but before any artistic or financial recognition could be gleaned from it. She was in default at the facility where her belongings were stored, so everything passed at auction to two interested buyers: Maloof and a group now known as Vivian Maier Prints, Inc. Thus, her estate in effect actually came to be “settled” prior to her death in 2009. These materials include thousands of rolls of undeveloped film. Add to this her propensity to hoard everything that came her way and you can see that it’s nearly impossible to fully evaluate her achievement or worth. You also have an idea of the sticky moral and aesthetic position the Maier promoters find themselves in.
Enter the fray: John Maloof. Maloof is billed as “an author and street photographer” in powerHouse’s press sheets. Prior to 2007 when he found the Maier material, however, he was in real estate, occupied in putting together a publication to promote Chicago’s Northwest Side. He was looking for photographs to illustrate his book. And but, here’s the twist: how does someone engaged in such a commercial enterprise, even if for purportedly altruistic reasons, morph into an “author and photographer” (another powerHouse phrase)? He had no background in either field.