On Vivian Maier's walks through the city she watches a 1950s girl in a prom dress emerge from the dark into the soft light of a street lamp. She appreciates the humour in two little girls sharing secrets against a wall and sometimes she stops to take a self-conscious self-portrait of her reflection in a shop window.
We know what went on on these walks through Chicago because she recorded all of it with her Rolleiflex camera. Vivian Maier is the recently discovered Chicago street photographer of the 1950s and 1960s and took all these pictures, which were then swiftly forgotten and hidden in boxes of undeveloped films for forty years. They were discovered via a chance purchase at an auction, and now, as each set is developed, seem to enchant everyone who sees them.
Screen grabs from Chicago Tonight
What each person is thinking about is intriguing in every shot, and imagined circumstances just present themselves. My favourites are the smartly dressed man balancing on his chair and the man with the hat asleep in his car on a summer's day. That Vivian worked as a nanny all her life, and died essentially penniless makes the story behind every click of the shutter all the stronger.
Although she wasn't a street 'style' photographer, Vivian puts specialised photographers like The Sartorialist (he of the visual life) to shame with her ability to capture an eye-catching outfit alongside an intriguing story or curious atmosphere in every shot.
I wonder about this century, in which we document everything, interesting or not. While most may not have the level of skill that Vivian Maier had, and kept hidden all her life, everything we do is archived online or on hard drives, and I wonder if we early twenty-first-century people will ever hold an air of mystery for future generations. Can you imagine, in fifty years' time, getting excited at the prospect of watching a drama series set in a 2011 advertising agency in London?
These are all screen grabs from a video that you should watch if you want to hear more of the story. It can be found here. In the words of one YouTube commenter: 'Wow, breathtaking. If she had had a Tumblr, her stuff would really have gotten around.'