The Nanny

Vivian-Maier-Self-Portrait chicago now

A while ago I came across the story of Vivian Maier. Who you ask? A nanny. And why should you care? Not a lot of people knew her while she was alive. Born in New York city she worked as a nanny in Chicago for most of her adult life. It was only after she died that a storage locker containing 100 000 negatives went on sale and surprised the world with her talent. This nanny was a photographer. And not just any photographer. Beautifully captured street style. A sense of humour. Clever compositions. Obscured self portraits. It was all there. Photograph after photograph. And no one had known. Not even her family and close friends. It was hidden. An almost lost secret. It makes me quite sad to know that perhaps she was never recognised for this talent. She never got to share it with anyone. Her life remained small and…I’m not sure what. Happy? Fulfilled? Insignificant? Satisfied?

I have quite an obsession about the idea of life with purpose. Each of us is here for some reason (at least in my mind) and so we must leave our mark in which ever way we chose – or perhaps conversely whichever way is thrust upon us. Whether it’s to find a cure, be a good mother, make people smile everyday, write a book, solve a problem, invent Uber – there is a purpose.


Because of this obsession I am always restlessly searching for ‘my thing’. My purpose. My raison d’être. I get so upset with any periods in my life that I deem invaluable (of which there are many). I feel like every day must bring me closer to this goal…whatever it may be. And so this story of Nanny Vivian made me sad. Here she was living a fairly average existence with a hidden talent that never saw the light of day while she was alive. It was never shared. Never recognised. Never praised.

But then perhaps the joy in these photographs was the lack of exposure. The fact that Vivian simply revelled in the life around her. This was for no one. No clients, no critics, no magazines. There was no set, no hair and make up artists, no models, no drama. This was just life. The capturing of a moment. A mental snapshot of the world around her.


She might not even have been aware that she had a gift. She obviously just found sheer joy in the click of a camera. A mental snapshot. She didn’t even process a lot of the imagery. It remained hidden away as negatives and wrapped up boxes until after she died.

So then maybe in a way Vivian Maier was in fact one of the luckiest people who ever lived. She was in a sense completely free…


images: the cut / pinterest / graphicine

To view more of Vivian Maier’s work check out this link > 

Author: Maja Havemann

I'm a freelance producer and writer living in London.

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