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Photo exhibition at Bozar: Vivian Maier. The Self-Portrait and its Double
Although the first solo exhibition in Belgium dedicated to photographer Vivian Maier focuses on numerous self-portraits, her work is anything but narcissistic.
Epitomising the invisible woman in society, US-born Maier (1926-1993) remained unknown throughout her lifetime, not sharing a single image from a prolific archive of more than 120,000 photos.
If she posed in many of them, either as self-portraits, a reflection in a mirror or simply as a cast shadow, her auto-representation was more an act of resistance, imposing her identity in what was otherwise a life in the shadows.
It was also defiance of a life that did not fit into the American dream. Her lack of social status and the fact that photography was a male profession in the 1950s and 60s, ruled out any ambition for a professional career.
For Maier spent more than 40 years working as a nanny, devoting all her spare time to her passion for photography, developing her own visual language.
Her recording of daily life in Chicago and New York, and in particular people on the margins of society, have earned her posthumous acclaim as one of the greatest street photographers, alongside famous names like Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt and Garry Winogrand.
She died destitute, her enormous body of work, including hundreds of undeveloped film, auctioned off to pay her debts. It was saved by chance by estate agent John Maloof, who recognised its potential and gradually accumulated other dispersed negatives.
This exhibition of some 470 images is a tribute to the intriguing and singular photographer. It’s divided into three sections: The Reflection, The Mirror and The Shadow. It concludes with a screening of super 8 and 16mm images shot by Maier; further evidence of her mastery of technique and framing and her long quest for an identity.
For curator Anne Morin, the self-portrait thematic is justified by the sheer quantity of photos that contain her own image, in one form or another. “For me, they are the most fascinating, complex, rich part of her archive.” The focus is even more pertinent in today’s obsession with selfie images.
Born to French and Austro-Hungarian parents, Maier lived life as an outsider, forever an enigmatic figure. Her legacy is not only the images she captured of life on city streets in a defining period of American history. It’s her technique for introducing shadow and silhouette into her photography, a duality where the absent and present coexist in the same frame, that will long fascinate.
Vivian Maier. The Self-Portrait and its Double
Until 21 July
Bozar, Rue Ravenstein 23
Photos: Vivian Maier Self-Portrait, NY, 1955; Vivian Maier Self-Portrait Chicago, IL © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY; Vivian Maier exhibition © Sarah Crew; Vivian Maier exhibition © Sarah Crew; Vivian Maier Self-Portrait Chicago, IL © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY