One thing does seem inarguable. Instead of regarding her as a nanny who happened to take great snapshots, we should recognise, once and for all, that Maier was the opposite: a photographer who chose to support herself financially, and develop her art, by being paid to look after other people’s children. She made the most of what being a full-time carer could offer – particularly the freedom to roam the streets for hours at a time, kids in tow, documenting whatever or whoever she found on the way. For a roving street photographer, a nanny (that most marginal and unthreatening of roles) was clearly a useful disguise.
Perhaps, indeed, even all her hoarding – the newspapers, the receipts, the ticket stubs, the indecipherable scribbled notes – were a kind of artistic process, a way of recording and registering her existence, much as Andy Warhol did with his time capsules (except, of course, that with Warhol we have no issue with regarding what he did as art).
“It was a means to an end, I have no doubt about that,” says Van Dijk, pointing out that we also have no difficulty in regarding male photographers who supported themselves by non-artistic employment as artists. “She was an artist, I really believe that.”
However much more is discovered about Maier – we are, perhaps, still only starting to get to grips with her – perhaps the truth is that she is harder to pin down, far more elusive, than we have yet realised.
“There’s no need to compare her to anyone else,” says Van Dijk. “She is very much herself.”
Vivian Maier: Works in Colour is at Foam Amsterdam until 13 September.
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