Failing to find (another) Vivian Maier

I got around to watching the film Finding Vivian Maier, which if you’ve not watched it then you definitely should as the reviews are accurate, it’s a great film. It’s probably most fun if you’re a photography enthusiast, but you don’t have to be. Beyond saying it’s worth watching, this is not a review though.

The central story, as you possibly already know (and if you’re a photography enthusiast will definitely know) is that Vivian Maier spent her life taking great photographs, never showing them to people and nobody knew she was a great photographer until she’d been dead for a while. Only now has she gained the recognition as an artist she didn’t have when she was alive, and may not have wanted when she was alive in fact.

Which makes me wonder about how much the idea of being a great artist (or anything in fact) is tied into recognition for it. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears..etc etc etc. If Maier’s negatives had never been discovered, or discovered by somebody who wasn’t aware of what they had found, she would still have been as good a photographer. Her would wouldn’t be diminished by her lack of recognition.

Which means of course that there are n more Vivian Maiers out there, and pretty much n squared though history. People who have worked away producing great art of all kinds without anybody knowing about them or their work. Of course with the advent of Instagram and other social networking sites there are also many thousands of people producing work which isn’t great about which we do know; that last isn’t in any way meant to diminish their work by the way. Anybody who lets their creativity out into the public domain, who takes a photo or does a drawing, or whatever and is willing to embrace the label is to some degree ‘an artist’ or ‘a photographer’, and kudos to them for putting their work out there where it can be seen. What I’m talking about is that there are almost certainly great photographers and artists and composers and so forth out there working away for their own pleasure, or driven by their own inner demons, and who never put their work out there in the public eye.

Some people never want their work seen, and that’s fine. But for many others it’s about not knowing how to access the online platform, or just about not having the confidence in their work and that’s something society must address. My personal view is that sometime in school the phrase ‘you’re good at art’ is uttered to some kids and not others, ’you’re creative’ is said to some kids and not others, etc. Some kids ARE naturally gifted at art, and some are late developers, or haven’t found a medium that allows them to express their creativity, or lack self esteem, or just don’t fit into the mould which school art requires.

I think that leads down the road to more unfound Vivian Maiers.

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