Something very interesting happens when a person is faced with a picture of Vivian Meier. They stop, take a closer look, and ask themselves where Meier was standing when he took this picture. You start looking for Maier in his pictures. Whether it is outside the picture or inside it. Often there will be shadows, reflections, hands or fingers in the frame if you spend enough time with the image. that is the pause; And it’s not by accident. Try taking a picture of her, and not only do you have the image of several fragmented reflections, but you also end up in the picture.
That’s what happened to me and almost all the audience at the Chicago History Museum last week. We all play a little game to let our body heal itself the way it would have been. Lean into the picture to find the marks of the lady and her camera. Find yourself in wonder how he saw what he saw. The world of Maiar is elusive and distant even in color.
On display at the Chicago History Museum, “Vivian Meier: In Colour” There is a multimedia exhibit containing 65 color images created during her time as a suburban Chicago nanny from the 1950s to the 1970s. Organized by guest curator Frances Dorenbaum, the show allows present-day visitors to step out of their homes to visit museums, giving an opportunity to reflect on the striking similarities between Maier’s way of seeing and ours now—Maier People can see themselves without being seen. As little as we know about her life, she didn’t want people to know where she lived, using a PO Box to receive her mail instead of a home address; While working as a live-in nanny, she used to demand a locked bedroom door. She often lied about her personal history.
Vivian Meier is one of the great mysteries of the art world. He took more than 150,000 photographs in his lifetime, but rarely showed anyone. Meier, who died in 2009 at the age of 83, funded his photography by working as a nanny for nearly 40 years with families in Chicago’s North Shore. During her vacation, or hanging out with the kids in her charge, she roamed the streets of Chicago with her camera, sometimes interviewing the people she photographed. His work was famously discovered posthumously in 2010. “Vivian Meier: In Colour” brings together 65 never-before-seen photos for one intimate show.
“Vivian Meier: In Colour”
May 8, 2023, Tues-Sat 9:30am-4:30pm Sun-5pm, Chicago History Museum, 1601 N.J. Clark, 312-642-4600, Chicagohistory.org, $19, $17 for students and seniors, children under 18 and up free.
The show is filled with commentary and wall text that gives context to his world. Meier is looking up, down, looking back to avoid “the risk of getting too close to a stranger,” the wall text says. There is safety in the distance, in observing without getting confused, in reflecting oneself. There are several self portraits on the show, which are strange even for an enigmatic figure like Maier. Walking through the show, you think of the woman more than the images. Was she trying to find herself in refraction? Are objects also images themselves?
This is a show full of standouts. There is a breathtaking 1959 image of two black women looking directly at the camera while framing a group of white businessmen with an American flag in the background. The opening self portrait is bright and clear in Maier’s reflections while the bracketing self portrait at the end is a complex refraction. A woman looks at her bedroom while the Maier looks at her from just outside the door frame. The Lions of the Art Institute of Chicago are recognizable only by what they frame: posters on the Chicago skyline and billboards. The Chicago Stock Exchange building is nothing but metal and bricks and the people around it. Mayer was there, watching it happen. She was there too, to make sure no one saw her testimony. “I’m like a spy,” she would tell People. “I’m the mystery lady.”
There is a strange parallel to the world we live in, which he saw. We are looking at the world upside down. We are looking at spring from outside our windows. Trying to see and understand the intersections and tensions in the world we live in. Meier just managed to catch it. It’s almost triggering how intimate her work is. His world is vital and dynamic, and life is happening around him; Be it the intimacy of sleeping on a train or holding hands in public or the silliness of eating out of a lunchbox alone, Maier makes the everyday extraordinary looking at it from under a crack in the wall. She gives it so much attention.
On a wall of pictures in the show, you can imagine him, with his camera, a Roliflex, operated at chest level. These were certainly the ones he had asked permission to take. This is where the curator’s presence in the show is felt the most. You are thinking of these people and their names. There is no race in the title of the pictures but you can see the similarities you are being asked to draw. There are eight pictures, people of all caste and age groups. Look side by side, you see the difference in their context, expressions, the kind of clothes they are wearing, the way their eyes and faces feel safe or not secure enough in the presence of the camera. Tonika is reminiscent of Louise Johnson’s Folded Map Project, These guys are Chicagoans, but what does that mean for each of them, especially pitting shows like these against each other?
“Vivian Meier: In Color” is a curator’s show—from the framing with white cardboard to the size of the photographs—there’s elusive how you approach the task. You have to get closer to the photo to examine it thoroughly. These are no larger than life prints. The wall text reflects the curator’s thought process. Like us, Frances Dorenbaum is asking if the subject agrees to be photographed or if Maier intends for us to see her work as we are now, in an art gallery, in the world of fine arts.
The exhibition also provides an opportunity to elaborate and create a racial context in Mayer’s work. We know very little about the politically charged Maier, but certain racial views and critical race theory consciousness are at play in the show’s handling. There are two very poignant arrangements: in a striking quartet towards the end of the show, a photograph shows President Eisenhower entering a hotel lobby, captured from an angle that mirrors his face to another person’s face. shows as; In that moment only the bold lettering symbolizes his power. In one of the opposite frames you can see a motorcycle rally in celebration of him. A photo at the top shows a group of policemen laughing while a black child watches the celebrations. He is kept by a woman, possibly his mother. There are two pictures of the children at the end of the show. One is the two white children playing with the garden hose, the water pouring out their very clear joy. On the other hand, two black children are looking out of a window; They are suspicious and careful—their joy is confined only in the grasp of metal and glass.
The only thing that is controlled in Meier’s work is how the photographs are arranged, what stories the curator decides to focus on with the images available to him. Whose faces are we seeing and what are you taking away from this system? What can be understood about the woman who managed to become invisible to the world while creating such a visible legacy? V
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