The Daily Northwestern

Evanston History Center hosts lecture about Chicago photographer

Richard Cahan, who co-authored two collections of Vivian Maier’s work, talks to the crowd about the Chicago photographer’s early life in France. Cahan presented the lecture on Maier as part of the Evanston History Center’s Under the Buffalo Presentation Series.

Tori Latham/The Daily Northwestern

Richard Cahan, who co-authored two collections of Vivian Maier’s work, talks to the crowd about the Chicago photographer’s early life in France. Cahan presented the lecture on Maier as part of the Evanston History Center’s Under the Buffalo Presentation Series.

Tori Latham, Assistant City Editor

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The Evanston History Center presented a lecture Thursday night on the late Chicago photographer Vivian Maier, highlighting her ties to Evanston.

Richard Cahan, the co-author of two Maier photography books, gave the talk, titled “Photographer Vivian Maier: In Evanston and In the World,” as part of the History Center’s Under the Buffalo Lecture Series. This was the first lecture of the center’s Winter 2015 series, said Jenny Thompson, the center’s director of education.

“We always want to offer educational and exciting events,” Thompson said. “We had a lot of excitement and buzz from people as soon as we released our marketing materials.”

Addressing a crowd of about 120 people, Cahan said he had been traveling around the country speaking about Maier, and in every location, he had presented to a packed house.

“What I think is exciting about this is that she really moves people,” he said. “This is like a rock concert, but people are waiting in line to see pictures.”

Throughout his lecture, Cahan touched on topics ranging from Maier’s years as a nanny in the Chicago area to her travels around the world. She was a very private person and few people knew she was a photographer until her photographs were shown for the first time in 2012 after being discovered in 2007, he said.

“The big challenge about the book was to understand who she was because she was quite the mystery,” said Cahan, referencing his most recent collection of Maier’s work “Eye to Eye: Photographs by Vivian Maier.” 

Born in New York in 1926, Maier moved to France when she was very young. She returned to America in 1939 but was back in France by 1949, though not much is known about that time, Cahan said.

Maier took many photographs in France, but most of the work Cahan showed at the presentation was taken in Chicago, where she moved in 1956 and stayed until her death in 2009. Cahan focused mostly on her street and everyday photography, which made up the majority of her work.

“I think it’s this everyday photography that interests me the very most,” he said. “There’s no question Vivian Maier used the camera as a diary. This is what she did everyday. This is what she saw.”

The photographs presented depicted objects as simple as rakes against a wall or leaves on the ground. Many were straight-on shots Maier took of people she came across on Chicago streets or children playing on the beach.

Joanne Zolomij, an Evanston resident who attended the event, said she loved the pictures shown and was interested by Maier’s story.

“It’s such an unusual story of such a private person,” she said. “It really is a treasure trove of great pictures from the time, when life was much simpler.”

When asked why Maier was not famous during her lifetime, Cahan speculated that it was because she was ahead of her time and the world hadn’t caught up with her yet.

“We are very interested in Instagram,” he said. “We are very interested in photography detailing people’s lives and showing what they ate, what they thought, and this is exactly what Vivian was doing. She was using the camera to really tell her life story.”

Email: torilatham2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @latham_tori

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