May 7, 2015

Superman, Jennifer Hudson and Vivian Maier


If I could have a super power, I would want to the ability to fly. 

And by flying I mean, I would want to be able to go out on the patio and like Superman, (without a special outfit or costume) leap up and fly.  Or to be able to fly from a mountain top out over the ocean, like a bird, without restraint or special instruments. 

My only recurring dream throughout my adult life is of me flying and I love this encounter with my dreams movie reel. In this recurring dream there is never any fear or hesitation or faltering. And I fly without wings, my arms are stretched out strong and wide, always reaching for the heavens. 

In the dream I fly and fly and fly. The dream is always peaceful and I wake up with wonder in my heart. 

If I could have amazing talent and gift, it would be a tie between singing and photography.  

And by singing I mean Jennifer Hudson style of singing, where a song can move your heart for days, where a song can jettison itself from your memory banks and place you at the exact moment and time you first heard the tune, a song that gets your feet tapping regardless of where you are, a song that can lift one or a thousand in a congregation to feel the tender goodness capable in all of our hearts.   

And the Jennifer Hudson I am talking about is the raw talent that she shared on of all places American Idol.   If you have time check out her cover of the song, IMAGINE. 

And by photography I mean the skill and talent to blend art, technology and the "know how" of using photography equipment to produce the experience and opportunity that Dorothea Lange is quoted in at the beginning of this post.  

By photography I mean photographs that open up eyes and hearts to see what we normally don't see.  

The subjects and themes of the photographs would be key to this talent, the other element or skill inherent in the gift of photography: the unique connection between photographer and subject, the dance between the lens and light and depth of field, shadows, framing, backgrounds, movement, and the subject.  

Photography that trespasses intimacy; proximity without invitation, photography where intuition allows recording moments of humanity without a formal RSVP, photography that moves the viewer to a single emotion or to waves of ideas, memories, perspectives and insight.  

A few days ago I finally got to see the documentary, Finding Vivian Maier.  Much of the film is still frames of her volumes and volumens of amazing photographs that were discovered by John Maloof, via the $380 purchase of a storage locker in an auction in Chicago in 2005. 

Vivian Maier, the French lady, as she is referred to towards the end of the film died in April of 2009, before anyone knew who she was, where she lived, and before anyone was able to realize, acknowledge and share her amazing talent  of photography. Her style is often referred to as STREET PHOTOGRAPHY. 

Maier's photography is compelling, it draws you in, it forces the quick eye to stop and look and look again.  I love her Self-Potraits. They challenge, the photographs are clever, they beg the question, how much of the shot was planned, how much of the shot was perfect timing combined with genius and brilliance ? Like the example below. 

The movie is tragic in some many ways.  The story of someone nobody knows, the story of a women that worked as a nanny in charge of the lives of children, you wonder who was really taking care of who in the nanny/child relationship.  

If you watch all the way to the end, you realize there may have been some mental health issues, certainly she was peculiar, she isolated herself from the world, her bridge for most of her life, children and a box camera.  

The movie is about so many things, the mystery of Vivian Maier, the discovery by John Maloof, the quest to find the photographer and then the mystery of who this person was. 

The people who are interviewed for the film, hardly knew her.  No one ever really saw any of the photographs, including Vivian. She saved rolls and rolls and rolls of film that she never developed or processed. 

During her lifetime her talent was not shared, her genius not recognized, the connection Vivian was making with the world, was at the speed of a lens opening and closing on the camera. Portions of seconds, less than the time it takes to inhale and exhale. And her connection was with strangers, people she never got to know. 

I imagine there was anguish, despair; there was something profound Vivian was protecting and/or looking for ……… or both. 

She was able to see and recognize and capture beauty among the ordinary, juxtaposition in the midst of light, shadows, textures, signs and words. 

She brings to the foreground emotions captured in the look of her subjects eyes, the posture of their heads, their arms, their hands, what they are doing the exact moment the image is captured.  

Her photographs that don't include people are equally captivating. Her eyes saw things that most people would miss. Maier took thousands and thousands of pictures, mostly black and white and mostly when she was on outings with the children she was caring for.  

If you have even a slight interest in art, photography, in the representation of humanity at large, click on the link below and take a few minutes to visit her portfolios.  


I invite you over the next few days, allow yourself time and curiosity to look at the world through the lens of Vivian Maier's camera.  

Look for the extraordinary light in familiar shadows 

Look for the geometry in the smiles of friendship and love 
Look for the movement of breath in objects and hard surfaces 
Look for the rhythms on your commute home
Look for the color orange in your refrigerator 
Look for the texture in the wonder and joy that surrounds you 


Vivian Maier