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Review: Vivian Maier/Corbett vs. Dempsey

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Enjoying a posthumous boom lately, hitherto undiscovered Chicago street photographer Vivian Maier shot the city in black-and-white, with a little color thrown in, through the last half of the twentieth century, favoring portraits, cityscapes, ordinary activities, and—in this show of fifty-five miniature working prints—studies of people of all sorts who have succumbed to sleep outdoors. The tiny size of the images works to Maier’s advantage, because if we want to read them, we have to get close and peer into them, and then we find ourselves inside the scene with her subjects, unable to contemplate them from a distance. Most of Maier’s photos are standard-issue street shots in the informal style of the time, and tame, even timid, to boot. Confrontation is not the name of Maier’s game; she likes to shoot her subjects from behind if she possibly can. If anyone is further from the infamous Weegee’s in-your-face approach, it’s Maier. That timidity, of course, informs her sleepers, but in those images Maier, who catches them close up, captures their grotesque individuality in a manner worthy of Diane Arbus—after all, they are not able to control their presentation of self. A chubby elderly man lying on his side, his eyes and mouth shut tight so that his facial creases are pronounced, is the last thing from a cherub we are likely to see. (Michael Weinstein)

Through July 21 at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 North Ashland

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