We’re asked to explore the Vivian Maier website and identify five street photographs that show the influence of surrealism, and write a short reflective commentary. (Side note: the line between an exercise and a research point gets very blurry on this course…).
I’m fairly familiar with Vivian Maier, having a couple of books, a couple of prints and the recent documentary, so a few images sprang to mind even before I started. However, I wanted to find some of her lesser known work to expand my horizons a little, and thankfully the website has some of her images that haven’t made it into the books.
I also wanted to incorporate the differing flavours of surrealism: the more visually complex images that relied on composition and technique, and the more straightforward shots of surreal occurrences that happened to be in front of her camera.
Using the original definition of surrealism I covered earlier, meaning “art purporting to express the subconscious mind by phenomena of dreams etc” (OED), the way in which surrealism could be said to have influenced Maier is that she saw and interpreted the world in a particular way and identified the elements that disrupted a ‘normal’ scene from life. There is dreamlike quality to these images – whether they meant anything to Maier specifically is something we’ll never know, but they certainly fit the generic, external view of ‘dreamlike’ imagery.
On the evidence of this set (and many others – I was spoilt for choice really) she certainly had an eye for the surreal moment out on the street, as well as the right kind of compositional and technical skills that could render an otherwise everyday scene visually surreal.
She used formal graphic elements a lot – shapes and lines that make things resemble other things, frames within frames, repeated shapes – to help create the air of surrealism.
As per my comments on Atget et al however, there have been many photographers who could produce surrealist images as part of their oeuvre, but few that consistently practiced a surreal approach on a sustained basis (Daido Moriyama, for example). So one could have selected many more of Maier’s images that showed no hints of surrealism.
It may be a generalisation, but my sense is that it’s more meaningful to speak of surrealist photographs than surrealist photographers. So the use of the qualifier ‘influence of‘ in the research brief is appropriate here.
http://www.vivianmaier.com (accessed 11/05/2016)