Today, those of us with smartphones at the ready take hundreds if not thousands of photos a month. Most of the time, I’ll take 12 photos of the same exact thing, just to make sure I “got the shot,” whatever that means. Because I then will proceed to throw one of the dozen snapshots into Instagram to filter it up so that it is a) virtually unrecognizable, and b) I appear quite the sophisticated shutterwoman (spoiler alert, I’m not). Thanks, technology!
In the photographic battle to balance out this overabundance of quantity with discerning quality, there is a clear front runner. For those seeking escape from the deluge in the form of a true master of deliberate, diligent photographic prowess, a trip to the Saxton Gallery of Photography is in order.
The current exhibit, “Vivian Maier: Photography’s Secret Master,” is an interesting study in street photography, but also in restraint and, most certainly, talent.
Maier’s work was first discovered by filmmaker and photographer John Maloof in 2007. Over the course of five decades, Maier had amassed more than 100,000 negatives, mostly shot in New York City and Chicago with a Rolleiflex, all while working as a nanny and with no definitive photographic training.
“A hundred thousand negatives is an amazing canon of work for anyone. And it’s difficult to conceive of that amount of work in today’s digital terms,” said Tim Belden, owner of the Saxton Gallery, who is responsible for bringing a Maier exhibit to Canton.
“Vivian is like anybody who gets intensely into an art form. She went to museums, saw other photographers, but was never schooled or trained. So she took the best of what she saw, internalized it, and then she worked obsessively,” explained Belden.
The average roll of Rolleiflex film had 12 exposures. According to Belden, Maier took one shot of her subject, where most photographers have to work a shot, taking 12, 24, even 50 exposures in repetition to get it right.
“In street photography, you have a split instant to comprehend the subject and its value, to get the lighting, exposure and composition right, and take the shot. And you don’t have a second chance,” said Belden.
If you can determine the nature of a photographer from the nature of her photographs, then your visit to the exhibit will tell you the story of a woman with profound skill and a keen propensity for empathy. In some photographs, the subject is aware of the photographer; in others, Maier goes seemingly unnoticed. Viewing the prints, this exhibit-goer wondered repeatedly whether Maier intentionally drew the attention of her subject in some instances, or if she was the victim of circumstance. In either case, the shots are adept and ring with genuine intention.
“She has a deep sense of humanity in her work. You can tell she has established some sort of rapport—not necessarily a positive one—but a rapport nonetheless between herself and the subject. There is a clear correspondence,” remarked Belden.
The exhibit is well curated. Despite his overwhelming collection of negatives, to date, Maloof has released only 60 of Maier’s photographs for sale to the public, those he deems the best of her work. Belden has acquired and hung 30 of those prints, a generous representation of her street photography and self portraits. These limited edition prints—runs of only 15 each—are on sale at the gallery.
Last month, Maloof traveled to Canton for talk-backs at the gallery and two showings of “Finding Vivian Maier,” at the Palace Theatre. The film is on iTunes and has been the bestselling documentary for the past few weeks.
For details about the exhibit, visit JosephSaxton.com or stop by the gallery at 520 Cleveland Ave. NW in downtown Canton. For more about Maier, the Maloof collection and upcoming projects, visit VivianMaier.com.