Vivienne Meyer, she went further than Van Gogh

The legendary life of Vivian Maier (Vivian Maier 1926—2009) is perhaps the most discussed topic in the photography industry in the past decade. She was an unknown family nanny before her death. After her death, with the accidental exposure of more than 100,000 negatives, her work shocked the world. Meyer was dubbed the “hidden master of photography” by the photography industry, with Lisette Model (Lisette Model), Garry Winogrand (Garry Winogrand) and Diane Arbus (Diane Arbus) Together with other representative photography artists, they have been included in the annals of street photography and new documentary photography in the United States.

As a mysterious photographer who has never received formal training, Meyer’s life left countless puzzling questions. Beginning in the 1950s, during her 40 years as a nanny in New York and Chicago, she used Rollei’s double-reflex cameras to record images of strangers who passed her on the street—business tycoons in suits and slum dwellers. , Children playing on the street and a selfie of herself. Some netizens sighed, “Looking at Meyer’s pictures one by one, you will see the most authentic urban scenes in the United States from the 1950s to the 1970s.” But these images were never shown, and most of them were not developed until her death. .

Since Mayer was discovered, the interpretation of her has never stopped. Since 2010, her works have been exhibited around the world one after another, attracting countless photography enthusiasts and those who want to get a glimpse of her heart. In 2014, the documentary “Looking for Vivienne Meyer” was nominated for Best Documentary at the British Academy of Film Awards and Best Documentary at the Academy Awards.

In March 2021, an exhibition of 83 Meyer’s self-portrait video works-“Looking for the Hidden Genius: Vivienne Meyer” opened at Today Art Museum in Beijing. This is Meyer’s first art gallery-level solo exhibition in China.

Curator Anne Morin believes that selfies are the most fascinating, rich and complex subject in Mayer’s work. Whether it is through the glass of the shop window, the mirror of the barbershop, the wide-angle mirror of the convenience store, the rearview mirror of the car or the shadow falling on the river bed, Meyer concealed herself within the range where she felt safe, and carried Observing the distance between oneself and the world with a trace of curiosity also realizes the definition of self-identity in this process.

“If these selfie images proclaimed Meyer’s existence, it might be because she was originally’invisible, like many people in similar social environments. The’American Dream’ prevailed in the 1960s, and the American economy, which was leaping at full speed, It reached its peak in society and politics. There was a place full of possible opportunities, and workers at the bottom of society, forgotten and marginalized people, did not get a place in the’American dream. When Meyer photographed himself, In the photo, either leaving clues that are almost unrecognizable, or occupying the entire frame, are all resistance to her conditions. Similarly, the people she photographed on the streets of New York or Chicago have also become self-portraits in this sense. She only photographs marginalized groups that belong to the same society as her.” Maureen wrote in the preface of the exhibition.

exhibition site

Peng Wei, the art director of this exhibition and contemporary ink artist, contrasts Meyer’s selfies with the current popular selfies. “The two are completely different. Meyer herself appears in the photo, not to show herself to others. Whether it is her shadow or the reflection in the mirror, it is an important detail that composes a perfect photo. This shadow is in the composition of the picture. This is very important. From my perspective as a painter, if this photo does not have this shadow, it will be very mediocre. Another example is Mayer shoots a mirror, and a deformed self is projected in the mirror. She presses it because the scene is interesting. Take the shutter. She is interested in the world in the lens and the decisive moment that Bresson said, so she took it, not just to show herself. But nowadays, the self-portrait is to show herself, how to take a better look at herself, that’s why With the beauty function.”

The artist and literary critic Chen Danqing has another understanding of Meyer’s selfies. “Someone asked me why I painted a self-portrait. Is it partly because of narcissism? No, because the painter’s hands are itchy, and I can’t find a suitable model for a while. The easiest way is to paint myself. This is also the case for Meyer. When she has no material. , Just shoot yourself, including your own shadow. People who are alone often face the mirror image subconsciously.”

Because Meyer’s fate had a certain overlap with Van Gogh-no one cared about it when she was alive, but shocked the world after her death, she was called the “Van Gogh of photography.” Chen Danqing believes that the two are not the same. “Van Gogh did not have any exhibitions during his lifetime. It is said that he had only sold one painting, but he longed for the world to know him. He said in a letter that one day the whole world would read his name. Meyer Unlike him. Meyer lives in a golden age of the discovery mechanism of photographic art. If she wants to be known by everyone like Van Gogh, she can do it, she has many opportunities, but she has never tried it once, she has not even been like this. Otherwise, it’s impossible to die, thousands of films have not been printed. Obviously she doesn’t want this at all, why? This is a mystery. In this sense, she has gone further than Van Gogh.”

exhibition site

Meyer spent her old age in poverty. Thanks to her three sons from the Gensburg family, who had been taking care of her for 17 years as a nanny, they rented a small apartment to her and found a place to stay. In 2009, Meyer died in a nursing home.

Two years before his death, a Chicago warehouse held an auction of overdue deposits, and Meyer’s personal belongings that had not paid the rent over time entered the auction process. The items being auctioned include a suitcase and hundreds of boxes filled with books, bills, documents, letterhead, photos, and undeveloped negatives.

At the time, John Maluf, who was studying the specific history of northwest Chicago, spent $380 to take the largest box of negatives. Although I took them home and found that these images had nothing to do with the research I was doing, Maluf was still shocked by the superb light, shadow and composition in the screen, scanned some and posted it on his personal blog, where Meyer and her works were entered. Public vision.

Maluf introduced Meyer in his blog, “She was a lonely person, without children, family and love when she died. She continued to create with the camera, but never shared the photos with anyone.”