Vivian Maier

One of my book group chums, Kay, kindly pointed me to this article in Chicago mag, about the street photography of the late Vivian Maier, most of her work found posthomously by John Maloof who was looking through boxes of belongings from old house sales and discovered boxes of prints and negatives. At first he had no idea who had taken them, but slowly, bit by bit, the backstory of this remarkable woman photographer’s past came out, along with her wonderful street photography. I love street photography – it’s one of those areas where the camera is the finest instrument, allowing quick snaps of everyday street scenes and people and buildings and activities, preferably candidly, no posing, just what your eye actually sees on the street around you, caught on camera, a little moment of everyday life frozen in time. And I love the fact that we can share these via the web now; there’s always the possibility that someone sees them and thinks wow, that’s my old neighbourhood from years ago, or oh my there’s me in the backround, or there’s old uncle Charlie on the park bench in your picture. I must admit when I do candid scenes I’ve sometimes had people see them on Flickr and recognise themselves or someone they know, or an old area they used to live in and leave a comment and it’s a nice feeling of connection (indeed long, long before the web we found some very old postcards in London, the old B&W ones with the crinkly edges, a street scene of people in Trafalgar Square feeding the pigeons – and there among them is my papa. How lovely to find such a thing). You can find more information and pictures by Vivian on the site specially set up about her here.

(photos above and below by Vivian Maier, (c) Vivian Maier Photography)

It’s funny, the candid photography of someone sitting or snoozing on a bench in a street or park seems to have remained a firm favourite with street photographers for decades. I think maybe it’s just a nice little, semi vulnerable moment when you see someone content in their own wee world, relaxing and watching the world go by, dozing or reading a book and you can get a totally natural, unposed candid shot. I’ve found myself naturally drawn to sneaking pics like that myself over the years, I think anyone who tries some gonzo street photography probably does. And you can’t really stage a pic like this – they have to be taken swiftly, shooting from the hip, not messing around for long with angles and settings, you need to get a pic quickly before being noticed if you want to capture that moment in its innocence, without the subject noticing and posing for the camera. Often this means you don’t get the best picture, from a technical point of view, but I’m more interested in capturing the moment than in technical quality of my photography:

Scottish winter sunbathing
(wee old man having winter sunbathing session in Musselburgh harbour)

reading in the spring sunshine
(woman sitting in early Scottish spring sunshine reading as the world passes by)

sitting on a bench by the sea
(couple of older gentleman relaxing during their respective walk/cycle along the promenade at Portobello)

I don’t know why I like street/gonzo/candid photography so much, perhaps it’s that feeling of capturing a wee personal moment, perhaps it’s the accidental intimacy it generates, reminding us that even in a busy city full of strangers there are little moments of lives just like our own happening all around us, sometimes intersecting with our own.

playing on the beach
(couple playing guitars on the beach at Portobello)

New Town in spring, pavement cafe

(street scene from Edinburgh’s New Town, summer’s day, cafe spilling out onto the street as young guy watches from nearby staircase)