Posted in Art Criticism

Vivian Maier: Street Photographer Discovered Part 4: "Untitled (Canada)"

Untitled (Canada)

Maier’s photographs of children often reflect on the innocence of youth contrasted with the harsher realities of the streets. This theme is evident in a pair of young girls – sisters, perhaps – who stare into our souls, one with curiosity and the other girl with apprehension.

Maier’s flawless composition in “Untitled” (a majority of Maier’s works are untitled) frames the subjects naturally within the light and shadows of a shop doorway in Canada. Lighting and texture differences provide visual interest with the pattern of a white sign at the top left juxtaposed with the darker window on the right mirrored by dark wood at the bottom left contrasting with a white sign on the right. The pattern repeats in the girls as well: in the foreground, the elder girl’s milky complexion and light eyes contrast with her jumper’s dark, heavy fabric while behind her and to the left, the younger girl’s dark hair and skin contrast beautifully with her light-colored dress.

Reflections in the window bring our eyes from light to dark to light to dark, and then back to the girls’ haunting gazes.

Perhaps the girls played in the framework of their imaginations until suddenly interrupted by Maier and her Rolleiflex pointed in their direction. Maybe Maier broke traditional street photography rules, asking to take their photographs – and this was their response.

Like the Chicago girl with her string, the children are dirty and rather unkempt – quite different from the well-to-do children with whom Maier worked as a nanny throughout her adult life. As she wandered city streets during her free time, making photographs of day-to-day (and night-to-night) life, she might have identified more with her subjects than with the people in whose homes she lived.


I'm a writer, editor, photographer and artist living in rural Southeastern Wisconsin. I grew up in Chicago, made my way to the deep woods of Northern Minnesota and then landed here among the cornfields and cows. It's quite simply my happy place.

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