I Found Vivian Maier – But It Was a Long Drive

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
― Ansel Adams

Vivian Maier, self portrait

Vivian Maier, self portrait

About a year ago I was stretched out on my couch, TV remote in hand, clicking through the channels – way past the point of holding out hope that anything remotely worthwhile would emerge shimmering from the flatscreen. I was, I suppose, mistaken.

A documentary called Finding Vivian Maier started up somewhere in one of the channels in the one-thousand-eight-hundred-something range. It was done by a New York artist named John Maloof. He was doing a book on the past years of the Big Apple and was haunting estate sales for photographs of a historical nature. He bought a box of some sort, hauled it home, and discovered it was full of both photographs and hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film.

And what photographs!

They were urban street scenes – but done with an impeccable eye and amazing composition. They were as good as the best professional work – but were a complete mystery. Who had taken these? How did they end up in this box? Why were they so good?

So Maloof started going through his box, finding scraps of paper with names and addresses that gave him his first clues as to who the photographer was and what the story behind them was. That story turned out to be as amazing as the shots themselves.

The photographer was a woman named Vivian Maier (though she used a number of different spellings of her name).

Some details of her life are still a bit fuzzy – but she took these photos while she worked as a nanny. She would walk around the city with the children, taking photos. She did this for years and years.

The filmmaker tracked down some of these kids, now grown, and interviews them about the odd woman that used to babysit them, and drag them all over the place with her trusty Rolleiflex.

I watched the biography several times and talked about it to my friends. Everybody that saw it found it as fascinating as I did. Of course, I searched for her work on this inter-web-thing – finding one amazing image after another.

Then, earlier this summer, I was driving to work, listening to a local radio station in my car – when a woman came on to announce the art happenings in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. She said, “And opening today, at the Arlington Museum of Art, is the show “Vivian Maier Lost and Found” and exhibition of work by the reclusive photographer. When I arrived home I did a quick Google search and found everything I needed to know.

I hadn’t even been aware that there was an Arlington Museum of Art. But it was easy to find, right in the middle of Arlington, which is right in the middle of the Metroplex. I was amped.

Things were really busy, so I didn’t go right away. The show ran all summer, so I wasn’t in much of a hurry. But, time flies, and my warning note in my Bullet Journal (Vivian Maier Exhibit Ends Soon!) reminded me that I needed to go. Luckily, I had some vacation time that I had to take so I put in for a Friday off and made plans for the solo drive to Arlington.

It’s a long way. There are giant elevated Texas concrete toll-roads that crisscross the ancient prairie like slashes from a celestial scimitar and I used my friends at Google Maps to maneuver through this unhuman maze without any real difficulty. Summer storms roiled and rolled by, windy, raining and thundering, but not able to significantly slow the stream of metal meat-cases plying the roads.

When I entered, a guy took my ticket and started to explain the exhibit. “But I know you’re excited,” he said, looking at me shifting from foot to foot, “So I’ll let you go look and not waste your time. Come back and ask me any questions.” Actually, I had to pee, but I appreciated his skills at observations.

It was really cool. Not overly large – fifty works in total. I was familiar with Vivian Maier, of course, but seeing the photos in professional quality gelatin prints, matted there on the well-lit walls… that is a thrill compared to staring at humble pixels on a laptop screen.

I decided that my favorite was this shot of two men staring at a coil of something in the rain. It seems to tell a story.

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier

Then I asked the guy that took my ticket what his favorite was. There is this amazing shot of a man in a newsstand. I especially like how the titles on his wares illustrate the times.

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier

And he liked (as did I) this mysterious shot of a winged car and some cats. It’s a spaceship guarded by two felines.

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier

A cool afternoon, well worth the drive.

I’m a little ashamed that I knew nothing of the Arlington Museum of Art – the new show there looks really cool. It’s an exhibition of local artists called Ulterior Motifs.

I think I’m going to be making that long drive again.

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier

Peanuts and Cracker Jack

Nick crossing home plate at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. They let the kids run the bases after an afternoon game – we had to wait for hours for his turn. This would have been right after the Ballpark opened, probably 1995. It’s hard to believe he’s a junior in college now.

A few weeks ago I won a pair of Ranger tickets in a raffle. They weren’t particularly expensive seats – only ten dollars each – but something won is always something good. Still, the games were on a Friday night – that’s a long drive after work, and the horrible Texas heat is upon us… so I considered giving the tickets away.

But it turned out that Nick was flying into town the afternoon before the game, so I was glad to hang on to them. There is nothing better than going to a baseball game with your son.

Baseball is a time machine. Baseball exists outside of the rest of reality and to enter a baseball stadium is to connect with every other time you have been to a baseball game.

When we walked in I thought of the first major league games I had attended – in Kansas City while I was in college. I thought of the old Ranger Ballpark – the crappy old one that was a little bit to the north of Rangers Ballpark. Since I was with Nick, I remembered taking him as a toddler to the old ballpark – he immediately began to throw ketchup coated french fries over the railing onto the crowd below. We had to leave before the second inning.

I remembered the times we would take the kids to games. We would buy really inexpensive bench seats out in the outfield, right next to the opposing team’s bullpen. Nick and Lee would talk to the pitchers through the wire mesh. Some would give them pitching hints. Some gave them souvenir balls.

Nick talked about driving back from school in North Carolina to see a World’s Series game at the Ballpark. As a twenty-odd year Ranger fan I never thought I’d see a World’s Series played here (now I want to see them win one).

All the ballgames I had been to or played in swirled in my mind, decades and decades worth. The ballpark is fancier than it used to be, the scoreboards are colorful, stunning, electronic (I remember seeing a single-A game in Charleston, West Virginia where the “Dot Race” was three kids racing behind the outfield fence with brightly-colored wooden cutout horses atop long poles), and now the food choices are much more varied and tasty (and expensive) – but the game is the same. The bat, the ball, the three bases exactly the same distance apart.

It is a connection between people and between times and between space. It is baseball. I had not been to a game in a couple years… I almost forgot.

One thing I always say is that baseball is the only sporting event that you can enjoy when your team loses. For most of the night, that looked like what was what was going to happen. I was resigned to the loss and simply soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying hanging out. Oakland was up two to nothing until the eighth inning and the Rangers loaded the bases. There were two outs though, so not much hope.

But, wonder of wonders, a run walked in, and then Craig Gentry hit a bases-loaded, three run triple to give the good guys the win. A bases-loaded triple! Arguably the most exciting play in the game. The sell-out crowd went nuts. The radio announcers on the way home said the Baseball Gods were smiling on the Rangers tonight.

Then, after the game, they had a fireworks show. It was very nice – I’m not sure, but I think this was the first time I’ve seen those really cool smiley-face star shells – impressive.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light, and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout.

And sometimes – not often, but sometimes, there is joy in Mudville.

The view from the cheap seats. This is actually a really good place to sit. It’s high up, but you get a view of the game you don’t see on television – the placement of the fielders, the way a double play moves. I had no complaints.

One of the things I like best about Rangers Ballpark is the ample terrace around the upper level. Even on a hot summer evening there is a nice breeze at this altitude and it’s a great place to walk out and hang for a few minutes while the other team is batting.

If you look over the edge of the terrace on the first-base side you have an imposing view across the parking lots of the Death Star – where the Dallas Cowboys play. A photograph does not convey the horrible gigantic-ness of this monstrosity.

Off the third-base side are the roller coasters of Six Flags Over Texas.

The sun sets over the parking lots from the terrace of the Ballpark.

I couldn’t believe it… during a slow part of the game the crowd actually started doing the wave. About three decades too late in my opinion. Even the big main scoreboard didn’t approve.