University of Chicago Library receives gift of vintage Vivian Maier prints

Nearly 500 photographs to be available for research at Special Collections

Sitting outside store
Unpublished work © 2017 The Estate of Vivian Maier. All rights reserved.
Andrew Bauld
News Officer for Arts and HumanitiesNews Office

The University of Chicago Library has received a gift of nearly 500 photographic prints made by Vivian Maier, the master 20th-century street photographer known for her striking images of life in Chicago and New York City.

The prints, given to the University by collector and filmmaker John Maloof, will be preserved and made available for research purposes by the Library’s Special Collections Research Center. The new collection is comprised of vintage prints that have never been published or exhibited to the public, along with one of Maier’s cameras and some of her personal effects.

“This collection of prints will help researchers and students to understand Maier as a working photographer,” said Daniel Meyer, director of the Special Collections Research Center. “As a new discovery in 20th-century American photography, Vivian Maier’s work also offers fresh insights into the viewpoints and graphic styles of her contemporaries.”

The UChicago collection is the first of Maier’s work to be held by a research institution, allowing scholars to study her photography and creative process in the city that was her home.

Maier’s work became known to the public less than a decade ago. Maloof in 2008 found himself with a trove of more than 100,000 photographs after purchasing the contents of several of Maier’s storage lockers at auction. His investigation into Maier’s life and work was told in the Academy Award-nominated documentary Finding Vivian Maier, which Maloof co-wrote and co-directed.

Maier was born in New York City in 1926. She spent much of her early life traveling the world before finding a home in 1956 in Chicago, where she worked as a nanny to support her photography. It was only after her death in 2009 that Maier’s work was displayed in museums and galleries to widespread acclaim.

“Vivian Maier herself is unique as a photographer because of her personal story and the remarkable quality of her work,” said Brenda Johnson, Library director and University librarian at UChicago. “Seeing these prints will help viewers to step back into Maier’s time and place and to explore her perspective.”

Maloof donated the prints to the University to allow for researchers to better explore Maier’s printing process and understand how her work evolved. “There’s more here that she physically created with her hands—that can be studied—than has ever been open to the public,” Maloof said. “This is what made her tick, who she was as an artist.”

Maier’s work will join collections of a range of female photographers held by the UChicago Library, including photo-secessionist Eva Watson Schütze, documentary photographer Mildred Mead, anthropologist Joan Eggan and literary photographer Layle Silbert.

The prints in the Maier collection represent the range of subjects she captured from the 1950s to the 1980s. Included in the collections are images of recognizable political, religious and cultural figures, along with the intimate street portraits of anonymous men, women and children. The collection has images—often captured curbside—of John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II, Eva Marie Saint and Frank Sinatra, among others. While past exhibitions of Maier’s work have typically featured large-format prints made from negatives by collectors, the UChicago holdings are comprised of prints made by Maier through commercial photo labs or in her own darkroom. 

“A lot of the work in this collection has her process visible,” Maloof said. “She’s printing in different ways, she’s cropping in different ways, and you can see her hand in the process. You can study that, and I think that could be important for people to research.”

The Maier collection is currently being processed and is expected to be made available to researchers by the end of the year. 

Maloof plans to donate additional photographs made by Maier to the UChicago Library. 


Note: The copyrights in the photography contained in this news release are owned by the Estate of Vivian Maier. The estate grants a limited, royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive license to media and press to reproduce the attached images in articles concerning Vivian Maier and/or John Maloof’s donation of vintage prints of Vivian Maier’s work to the University of Chicago. Publication of images from the collection requires use of this notice: “Unpublished work © 2017 The Estate of Vivian Maier. All rights reserved.”

High-resolution versions of images may be used in connection with print versions of articles only. For electronic and online publications, the reproduced images may not exceed 1,500 pixels on the longest side and 72 dpi. Unauthorized reproduction, distribution or exhibition could result in liability under the Copyright Act.