The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

Features thousands of biographic and thematic essays on Jewish women around the world. Learn more

Vivian Maier

February 1, 1926–April 21, 2009

by JWA Staff
Our work to expand the Encyclopedia is ongoing. We are providing this brief biography for Vivian Maier until we are able to commission a full entry.

Viewers contemplate photographs at the "Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer" exhibition in Chicago 2011. Photo by ChicagoGeek, via Wikimedia Commons.

Although Vivian Maier’s exceptional photographs came to light only after her death, she is now celebrated as a visionary self-taught street photographer. Maier’s parents separated when she was young, and her French-born mother raised her partly in America and partly in France, where Maier began using her first Kodak Brownie camera. In 1951 she began working as a nanny for a family in Southampton, New York and could finally afford to upgrade to a higher-quality Rolleiflex camera. She moved to Chicago in 1956, where she served another family and finally had the luxury of creating a small darkroom in her apartment. Over her 40-year career as a nanny, she continued to take pictures, slowly amassing hundreds of boxes of negatives. Her photographs show an incredible mastery of composition and balance of light and shadow (despite often capturing subjects in motion), and she made creative use of mirrors and reflecting windows to create unusual self portraits. After her retirement, Maier became impoverished and the storage unit where she kept her photos, negatives, and equipment was auctioned in 2007. Shortly afterward, several of the children she had helped raise began supporting her, but she died in 2009 after a fall. Her obituary enabled one of the buyers of her storage unit to discover her identity, and her work has become the centerpiece of numerous gallery shows and two documentary films.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Vivian Maier." (Viewed on May 31, 2023) <>.


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