For the first time, the Musée de Pont-Aven and the musée des Beaux-Arts de Quimper are coming together to present a new exhibition on this unusual photographer.
The New York and Chicago street scenes are on display at the musée des Beaux-Arts de Quimper. Vivian Maier captured split-second moments in the life of perfect strangers, anonymous figures with whom she shared a common humanity and fate.
The Musée de Pont Aven will exhibit the self-portraits, a recurring theme in Vivian Maier’s work which has never been fully explored in a French exhibition. Unlike Narcissus, whose obsession with his reflection caused his downfall, Vivian Maier’s interest in her own image was more like a frantic and desperate search for her identity.
These two exhibitions establish a dialogue offering visitors a panoramic view of the work of this invisible witness of her era.
In Quimper :
To discover these striking images of the great American metropolises is to enter the heart of Vivian Maier's artistic path: the streets of the working-class neighborhoods of New York and Chicago form the framework of a narrative that defines the contours of another world, a harsh and sometimes tender world that exists on the bangs of the American dream.
Vivian Maier likes to photograph the anonymous masses in the street, its eccentricities. She captures the moods of passers-by, lingering on their faces, their attire or their occupations. Her snapshots often discover an unexpected beauty and sometimes reveal details that allow her to approach the intimacy of these anonymous lives. Excluding the search for sensationalism, she prefers to photograph just "little things" of everyday life: a detail, a gesture, an attitude, a pivotal moment.
Strangers, anonymous people, formed part of her universe. When she approaches them, Vivian Maier knows how to place herself in the best spot, always choosing the perfect angle. She masters to perfection the distance that separates her camera from the model. This relationship to space guides her entire artistic approach, revealing a science of framing that emphasizes her originality.
The photographs in this section reveal a different side of the artistic ambition of Vivian Maier. If her recent popularity and her rediscovery is based on scenes of daily life, that privileged street scenes, portraits, landscapes, etc., there is also a significant body of work that tends towards a stylization and a geometrization of forms. Obviously, Maier perfectly masters the aesthetic codes of formalism: her concern for original framing, her ease in playing with fullness and emptiness, in juxtaposing light and shadow, in dragging the real towards abstraction, open another chapter in the career of this very complete photographer.
As a nanny, Vivian Maier developed very early a benevolent curiosity for the world of childhood. Childhood is a constant theme in her work and vitally important: children impose their presence, whether they are posing individually, playing in a group, or staring out at the camera. At the same time, Vivian Maier has also multiplied the number of shots in which the child accompanied the adult, highlighting the convergence of their worlds, which are so often far apart.
Naturally, the children she cared for became her models, and sometimes precious "accomplices". Not only did they join her on her long urban meandering walks, but above all, their creativity in the realm of games and imagination was a permanent source of inspiration.
This section, which brings together mostly young and old faces, underlines the importance that Vivian Maier places on the art of portraiture, an essential discipline in the world of photography.
By working as a portraitist of the inhabitants of New York and Chicago, Vivian Maier affirmed her tastes as well as her preferences: portraits of women, the elderly, the underprivileged. In her portraiture, she was also looking to get closer to the popular humanity with which she identified. Many of the photographs are the result of a real encounter between the photographer and her models. The faces appears in front, in close-up, and exert a magnetic fascination through the expressiveness of their looks. Sometimes she favors the instantaneous, the "stolen moments" that capture the magic of a chance encounter.
Her attitude is diametrically opposed when she encounters the sophisticated world of fashion and the upper classes. Displaying a certain hostility, she does not hesitate to push the person she is photographing to provoke a reaction that shatters the rules of decency.
Maier embarked on colour photography in the early 1970s. This crossover into colour went hand in hand with a technical change as Maier began to work with a Leica. This was a far lighter camera with a viewfinder at eye level, two significant differences from the Rolleiflex she had used up until then. As a result, Vivian Maier got closer to the models she photographed and appropriated a vision of the world in its colored reality. However, her writing of color remains singular and free, even playful. She explores the specificities of the chromatic language with a light touch, elaborates her own lexicon but, above all, has fun with reality: Maier emphasises garish details, focusing her gaze on the clashing dissonance of fashion or playing with contrasts.
SUPER 8 FILMS
The Super 8 material reproduced in this exhibition lets us follow Vivian Maier’s gaze. She started to film street scenes, events and places in 1960. Her cinematographic focus is closely related to her photographic language; it is a visual experience, a subtle, silent observation of the world around her. There is no narrative nor camera movements, the only movement that could be described as cinematographic is that of the bus or metro she is travelling on.
Vivian Maier filmed whatever led her to a photographic image: she observed, paused intuitively on a subject and then followed it. She zoomed in on her target to approach it from a distance, focusing on an attitude or detail, such as the legs or hands of people amid a crowd. The film is both a documentary —a man being arrested by the police or destruction caused by a tornado— and a contemplative piece —the strange procession of sheep heading towards the Chicago slaughterhouses.