University of Chicago lands trove of unseen Vivian Maier photos

University of Chicago landed a collection of 500 photographic prints made by Vivian Maier.

Collector and "Finding Vivian Maier" filmmaker John Maloof has donated to University of Chicago a trove of 500 photographic prints by the esteemed street photographer Vivian Maier, whose candid shots of life in Chicago won her posthumous acclaim.

The vintage prints from the 1950s to the 1980s Maier made in her own darkroom never were before published or shown the to public. The South Side university in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood will make the collection, which includes one of her cameras and some personal effects, available for research purposes at the Library’s Special Collections Research Center.

Images in the collection include street portraits of anonymous people, as well as big names like John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II, Eva Marie Saint and Frank Sinatra.

“This collection of prints will help researchers and students to understand Maier as a working photographer,” said Daniel Meyer, director of the Special Collections Research Center. “As a new discovery in 20th-century American photography, Vivian Maier’s work also offers fresh insights into the viewpoints and graphic styles of her contemporaries.”

Maier worked as a nanny and shot street scenes and intimate portraits of random pedestrians while walking to and from work. She was unknown until her death in 2009, after which her work was widely displayed at galleries and museums like the Chicago History Museum, the Museo di Roma in Rome and the International Photography Hall of Fame in St. Louis.

“Vivian Maier herself is unique as a photographer because of her personal story and the remarkable quality of her work,” said Brenda Johnson, library director and University librarian at UChicago. “Seeing these prints will help viewers to step back into Maier’s time and place and to explore her perspective.”

Maloof acquired more than 100,000 of her photographs after buying her storage lockers in an auction. He co-wrote and co-directed the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Finding Vivian Maier."

He said he wanted academics to gain insights into how her work evolved.

“There’s more here that she physically created with her hands — that can be studied — than has ever been open to the public,” Maloof said. “This is what made her tick, who she was as an artist.”

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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.