Vivian Maier’s self-portraits are tantalizing. The street photographer liked to shoot her shadow, the outline of a hat and raised arm darkening a patch of sidewalk or grass. Other times she offered glimpses of her body, as in a 1975 photograph taken in Chicago, Ms. Maier’s longtime home, in which part of her head is visible in a small mirror that lies atop a bouquet of flowers on the ground. The rectangular mirror looks like a picture within the frame, and she seems to be staring out from it.
Ms. Maier took many thousands of photographs while working full time as a nanny, but she almost never showed them; in later life, she didn’t even develop much of her film. She left behind material to fill several storage lockers but no close friends or family. For those who have followed the discovery of her work — including a legal dispute that halted the dissemination of it but was settled confidentially in 2016 — the self-portraits create the illusion of intimacy with a woman who remains unknowable.
The 1975 picture is on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery in the exhibition “The Color Work,” devoted to Ms. Maier’s color photography, in tandem with a new book. (An album of vintage color prints by Ms. Maier will also be auctioned this month.) The show iterates her talent for infusing the everyday with dramatic tension; her scenes of street life are shot through with uncertainty and possibility. In a photograph from 1977, two boys stare out from behind glass with troubled expressions that belie their ages. In a picture from 1960, someone seems to be disappearing into a hedge. The exhibition is a potent reminder that Ms. Maier’s capacity to cultivate mystery extended far beyond herself. JILLIAN STEINHAUER
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