An example of Maier’s captivating street photography
Originally published at The Huffington Post
I recently came across a documentary film about a self-taught street photographer from the 1950s who died before realising how much fame her Rolleiflex twin lens camera would bring her. Vivian Maier shot over 100,00 photographs all while being a nanny and living a discreet, mysterious life. The only reason that her work became public and known was because of a coincidental discovery by filmmaker John Maloof who made it his mission to unravel her story to the world.
Maier was never married and lived and died alone without any family. The director of the documentary was moved by how confident and brass she was for a woman of her time, she was a feminist without even knowing it. Despite working in menial labour in order to pay her rent, Maier restlessly dedicated her life to taking pictures and capturing ordinary people in their every day routine. Her style of street photographywas rare and captivating. By taking a glance at her work you can discern how invested she was in her subjects. There was something about the way she depicted people, as if she really understood them. However, what interests me the most about Maier was not just her photographs, but also the person behind the camera.
“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought, there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there you read this and know that yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.” – Frida Kahlo
Fernando Pessoa sums up Maier’s personality to me greatly in this quote: “to be understood is to prostitute oneself”. Maier was an interesting case of introvert; she revealed very little about herself and never tried to seek the limelight for her talents. She lived completely solitary locking herself in her attic room stacked with newspapers and undeveloped photo films. She gave a fake name to almost everyone she knew. Maier was unusual and mysterious; she was an eccentric introvert. She reminds me a little of Frida Kahlo. It was more important to Maier to take pictures than anything else, it did not matter to her if people understood her. Maier was not one to prostitute herself to society.
Maier possessed a quality which is rarely found in today’s world; total and utter fearlessness (which is otherwise known as madness). As an introvert, she spent most of her time alone doing whatever she wanted to do rather than explaining herself to people or justifying her decisions to others. Maier embraced being different from the rest of society and owned her uniqueness. Creatively Maier showed how powerful an introvert can be since she had no friends, family or love connections and yet still managed to create photographic art which was compassionate, warm and empathetic.
Most introverts rationally expense their energy and this why they excel at creativity. They are not always eager to spend time away from themselves because solitude is a comfort zone for them. Introverts are dismissive of the norm and seek to magnify their own shine instead of falling into the crowd. Introverts are awesome because they possess a deep amount of self-love that no of societal conditioning can break. As a self-confessed introvert who lives for privacy and alone time I cherish eccentricity. Original imagination is what drives the human experience.
A famous writer once said “If you are not for yourself; who is going to be for you? If you are only for yourself, when what meaning can your life ever have?”. What introverts show us is that it is possible to be a huge loner and still produce meaningful work that impacts the wider world. It is a myth that introverts are useless recluses. Introverts spend lots of time digging deep so that when they re-surface, they can replenish and not exhaust others. Maier gave us so much because she did not take away from herself. She stayed true to her identity, no matter how strange and unusual her persona was. I urge you all to watch Vivian Maier’s documentary to see how truly awesome the life of an eccentric introvert can really be.