Critics’ Picks

Vivian Maier, 5886-eq-02, 1977, C-print, 10 x 15”.

Vivian Maier, 5886-eq-02, 1977, C-print, 10 x 15”.

Los Angeles

Vivian Maier

KP Projects
170 South La Brea Avenue
December 17, 2013–January 25, 2014

Of the more than 150,000 negatives taken by the late street photographer Vivian Maier throughout her lifetime, these eighty-plus photos on view offer a vivid cross section of the artist’s primary conceptual concerns. It is difficult to separate Maier’s images from the elusive enigma that surrounds her, so discovery is a key method in approaching the artist, who is better known for her acute ability to capture urban vernacular life. But the viewer in this show unexpectedly becomes witness to the weight of small, often unseen moments captured by Maier’s lens and, more generally, to the photographer’s personal reflection on her otherwise invisible place in the world.

Almost all the exhibited portraits were taken at or below the subjects’ eye level; one showcases two small working class girls looking forlornly at the camera from a nondescript stoop. An exception to this compositional rule comes with images of Maier’s shadow. In Untitled 1971_1758, 1971, her shadow emerges as an aggressive and haunting presence, looming darkly over a woman in curlers sunning on the beach. Within the displayed body of work, Maier’s shadow acts like a “male” counterpart to the photographer’s normally depicted reality as a domesticated and unrecognized female artist. Maier also gravitated toward her own reflection caught in windows and other surfaces, especially in rounded forms that evoke the camera’s lens. In 5841–07, 1979, the photographer captured her reflection in both a window and a mirror, creating an illusion that makes the mirror appear as a handheld camera.

Speculations on celebrity and politics similarly emerge: Maier’s visage appears on a poster of Marilyn Monroe in one photograph and in another on a newsstand copy of LIFE magazine featuring Germaine Greer with a caption on the cover that reads A SAUCY FEMINIST THAT EVEN MEN LIKE! Taken together, Maier’s work elicits the contours of a chasm present between photography’s survival and its relationship to the found and the appropriated. That Maier was publicly revealed only after her death adds another layer to an already complicated meditation on locating the self in time and place.