They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if this is the case, then my vague attempt to capture the street photography magic of Vivian Maier in a single photograph must be considered my private tribute to her work. After watching the great BBC documentary about her life and work (brought to my attention by Eric Kim’s street photography blog), I headed out on this non-descript day to see how easy it would be to imitate here style. Well, to save you some time if you do not want to read any longer, the short answer is that it is not easy at all. I think it all has to do with the times we live in and the simple fact that Ms. Maier looked down when taking her masterful photos. We’re talking pre-Internet and social media times here, when photography was not a globalized commodity to be feared and state-of-the-art Rolleiflex twin lens reflex cameras (like the one used by Ms. Maier) forced you to look down into the glass instead of across to the subject.
These elements must have played a role in her photographic life, but there is no denying that her incredible talent to capture the proverbial “moment” of a scene more than justify her posthumous photographic fame. Her eye for composition and light was nothing short of brilliant—a study of balance and symmetry that should be required study for any photographer. As depicted in the BBC video, many of her shots required her to be about three to four feet from her subjects, which in today’s über-paranoid world would not be an easy thing to do. I’m certain that sixty years ago Ms. Maier had an easier time answering the “what do you plan to do with those pictures” question, as the state of technology back then did not allow for instantaneous global distribution of your photos. But whatever the case, there is no denying that Ms. Maier got her shot when she was there with her camera, and in the end, that is all that matters. Too bad she never got to see the much-deserved outpouring of admiration from a thankful world.