Man Buys 10.000 Undeveloped Negatives At a Local Auction and Discovers One of The Most Important Street Photographers of the Mid 20th Century

Imagine this : perhaps the most important street photographer of the twentieth century was a nanny who kept everything to herself. Nobody had ever seen her work and she was a complete unknown until the time of her death. For decades Vivian’s work hid in the shadows until decades later (in 2007), historical hobbyist John Maloof bought a box full of never developed negatives at a local auction for $380.

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John began to develop the negatives and it didn’t take long before he realised that these were no ordinary street snapshots from the 50’s and 60’s — these pictures were a lot more then that. Maier’s work is particularly evocative for those who grew up in the 50′s and 60′s because she seemed to stare deep into the soul of the time and preserve the everyday experience of the people. She ventured outside the comfortable homes and picturesque residential neighborhoods of her employers to document all segments of life in and around the big city.

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1953. New York, NY

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He embarked on a journey to find the legend who took these beautiful pictures and he quickly discovered her name: Vivian Maier.

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Here’s a self-portrait of Vivian

Before he could find her, John discovered  her obituary in the newspaper of 2009 . She slipped on ice, suffered a head injury and never fully recovered. She was 83 years old when she passed away.

Since then, the work of this mysterious and incredibly talented woman has turned the art world upside down. The pictures gained international media attention with exhibitions in London, New York , Los Angeles , Oslo and Hamburg.

John has also made ​​a documentary about Vivian and her work  — you can check out the trailer below. Wow! What an incredible story and what an inspiration.

If you loved this post, then be sure to check out:
38 Realistically Colorized Photos From the 1800 and 1900′s That Make the Past Seem Incredibly Real!
colorized historic photo 13-30


  1. […] – Die Menge der urbanen Kunstwerke, die man im Google Project Street Art sehen kann. – Die Zahl der unentwickelten Negativbilder die John Maloof kaufte und die dazu führten die Fotografin Vivian Maier zu entdecken (kuriose […]

  2. […] cantidad de obras de arte urbano que se pueden ver en el Google Art Project Street Art. – la cifra de negativos sin revelar que compró un tal John Maloof y que permitieron descubrir a la fotógrafa Vivian Maier (curiosa […]

  3. This is an amazing, wonderful untold story and for me particularly, a a triumph for a female artist of that time, seemingly secretly working at her craft. Can anyone tell me if whatever profits are being made off of all her work being shown now are going to her estate, or what is happening there? Just curious – I am sure the historian is creating a fund of some sort and would be interested in hearing more.

  4. These were Not boxes of 35 mm slides…….they were boxes of developed 2 1/4 square negatives…….Vivian Maier seemed to worked exclusively with the Rolleiflex…………..

  5. I feel, those are BOXES, OF 35MM SLIDES, NOT NEGATIVES !!!!!!!!
    That is what, MOST FOLKS, TOOK BACK THEN.
    I was in the ,”PHOTO BUSINESS”, over 40 YEARS, and I KNOW, THOSE ARE SLIDE BOXES, she may have put her NEGATIVES, IN THEM !!!!!!

  6. Quote from this article: “these pictures were a lot more then that.” Please correct this by changing “then” to “than.” :) Thank you! (Love the article, though!)

  7. These were negatives, so they were indeed developed. The header should say never before printed, released, or seen. Had they not been developed it is unlikely the images would have survived to reveal both the high quality of the negative, and the photograph itself. This photographer knew what she was doing.

  8. This is truly an incredibly fine piece of work, about a truly
    fine American Master !!!! Thank you, very much !

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  11. […] Man Buys 10.000 Undeveloped Negatives At a Local Auction and Discovers One of The Most Important Str… – this is a terrific example of how you just don’t know what you’ll find at your local auction.  A historical hobbyist paid $380 for a complete collection of negatives that later turns out to be the work of a relatively unknown, but very important, photographer who lived and worked in the 50’s and 60’s. […]

  12. This is an outstanding site, I am truly captivated by it all,and I have only seen a few posts.Wow, a treasure trove of fascinating stuff. I am always fascinated by the human condition, art, nature (environmental issues) and the cosmos.

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