This week, I went to a Vivian Maier exhibit at the Harold Washington Library. I had seen some of her photos before, and I knew there was a lot of buzz over them the last few years – but I never really looked into her story. The exhibit was well done, and I was really glad I went. But as I was leaving the exhibit, I took a postcard and read this on the back:
Using a Rolleiflex camera, Maier wandered the streets of Chicago shooting images of everyday scenes and people. She did this mostly on her days free from working as a nanny and housekeeper in the North Shore Suburbs of Chicago. She showed the images to no one and eventually stored the photographs and undeveloped film in a storage unit.
Unable to pay the rental fee later in her life, the unit was auctioned and purchased by John Maloof in 2007. Maloof posted the pictures on a photo website where they soon received a great deal of attention. He searched for information about her and discovered her obituary in the Chicago Tribune. She died days before he could locate her. At 83 years old, Maier had passed away not knowing her work would become critically acclaimed and the subject of books and exhibitions.
Shit. Vivian never knew.
I rode the maze of escalators to the exit and read the postcard again and tears welled up in my eyes (I’m sensitive these days, ok?). So many questions popped into my head. Why didn’t she show anyone these photos? Is it cool that John Maloof exposed all of her work without her permission? If she didn’t make these photographs for money or recognition, then why did she create them? Would the work be different if she knew other people would be looking at and judging her work? Why did she create these?
It got real deep on the escalator of the library.
But really, why did Vivian take all of those photos? Why do any of us create? You don’t have to be a photographer to answer this. Cooking a dinner or writing a blog post is creating. Do you create to get recognition? Maybe you want a book deal or your content to go viral. I’m not saying those reasons are wrong. I’m guilty of creating to be seen. But I also know from experience that this can also make creating less enjoyable and even change the quality of the work.
Can we all take a page from Vivian Maier this week? Create without the fear that anyone will see it, taste it, or judge it. Go wild. Put everything you have into it. Put down your phone and live in the moment of creating. Create the greatest meal, photo, or article you’ve ever made…as if no one will ever see it. Create like Vivian. Create just for you.