Vivian Maier, the Chicago-area nanny whose striking photography earned her international acclaim after her death five years ago, never saw many of her images developed.
But a team of five students at College of DuPage led by Frank Jackowiak, the school's photo lab manager, can lay claim to bringing to light the images on the 275 rolls of Maier's film they processed.
If you goWhat: "Vivian Maier: Exposed" photo exhibit
When: Opening reception 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 17; exhibit runs through Aug. 18 with gallery hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 to 8 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cleve Carney Art Gallery in McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn
Info: www.cod.edu/gallery or (630) 942-3206
"It's a little bit of a surreal experience," Jackowiak said. "Their perk was they were the first people in the world to see the images. Not even Vivian saw the images."
Some of those images will be on display for the rest of the world to see when the "Vivian Maier: Exposed" exhibit opens with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 17, in the new Cleve Carney Art Gallery in the college's McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn.
The free exhibit continues through Aug. 16 with gallery hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
"I think people are going to flock here," Jackowiak said. "I think it's going to be mobbed on weekends."
What sets "Vivian Maier: Exposed" apart from other exhibits of Maier's work is that the silver gelatin prints developed from the film will be shown side-by-side with ink- jet copies of the images. Art purists will argue that only the silver gelatin prints should be shown, Jackowiak said.
"I call it the 'Clash of the Titans,'" he said. "It should make for some lively discussion."
Jackowiak said about 50 of Maier's images will be part of the exhibit, with many of them developed by COD students. Most, but not all, were shot in the 1960s and early 1970s in Chicago, where Maier worked as a nanny for about 40 years.
Art of everyday
Born in New York City in 1926, Maier spent much of her childhood in France and often wrote notes in French on the paper covering the metal film cartridges about where and when the images were taken. She left more than 100,000 negatives, with the majority taken in Chicago and New York City.
She also traveled broadly, however, recording scenes from South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
The self-taught photographer shared few of her images with others and many of her films remained undeveloped until John Maloof, who was working on a book about Chicago's Northwest Side, acquired some of her prints and negatives at an auction in 2007, a couple years before Maier's death in 2009.
Maloof, one of three owners of Maier's work, is the editor of the book "Vivian Maier: Street Photographer."
But Maier was more than a street photographer shooting pictures of strangers, Jackowiak said.
"The thing that impresses me is she really captured everyday life," he said. "Everyday life that passes by and no one notices. She noticed."
Maier took photos of the children under her charge, but rarely shared them with their families.
"There are a lot of pictures of the kids," Jackowiak said. "A lot of the kids never saw the photos."
By all accounts a very private person, Maier didn't try to market her work.
"It was not her livelihood, but she still had a strong passion for photography," Jackowiak said. "She never really sought any fame. She just took great pictures."
Jackowiak said Maier may not have developed many of her films because of monetary constraints, but she also may not have felt the need to see the finished work.
"A lot of times, the process of getting the picture satisfies the photographer's need," he said.
From film to photos
After Vivian Maier's work was discovered, art collector Jeffrey Goldstein purchased a significant portion of it, including negatives, prints, homemade movies and slides. It was a seemingly chance meeting with Goldstein that got Jackowiak involved in processing the film.
In December 2011, Jackowiak had lunch in Chicago with a photographer friend whose dark room Goldstein was using. When Goldstein dropped by, Jackowiak offered to process his film -- only to discover that Goldstein had 275 rolls of film.
Back at College of DuPage, Jackowiak sent out an email seeking students and former students with processing experience to help him with the work. He picked five with the most experience and they worked on the project for most of 2012.
One of the former students, Jerry Cargill, a high school photography teacher, was asked to work on the project because he had experience developing hundreds of rolls of the 120 film that Maier used before 35 mm was available. Her work was much less known when they started, he said.
"They told me the name and I didn't even know who she was," he said. "It was kind of cool. It was a unique experience."
The film was old and brittle, and had to be carefully transferred from spool to reel to be processed and put on contact sheets.
"We felt we had a sacred trust," said Joanne Barsanti of Roselle, another student who worked on the processing. "It was surprising to us that her work resonated with so many people."
The age of the film created the potential for fogging because the darks and whites were low in contrasts. While fogging can cause photos to look cloudy or patchy, the problem proved to be minimal because Maier used mostly black-and-white film, especially in the earlier decades of her work.
"It was a very faint fogging because of age and it was uniform," Cargill said. "It was really remarkable that the film survived that well. ... The (color) film not so much."
Maier, who has been described as a socialist and feminist, shot photos of current events and newspapers that reflected her views, but really excelled in her images of people, Cargill said. Many of her subjects were older people or children.
"Her photographs of people are most interesting," he said. "I think she was intrigued by people even though she was a loner."
Barsanti, who now works as a fine art photographer herself, said she was especially impressed with Maier's images of children.
"It brought back that era of time," she said
Maier may have never taken a photography class, but her images as well as autographs and art books she collected show she studied the work of others, Cargill said. She also was known to have had conversations with people about photography and cinema.
"She was definitely influenced by famous photographers and other artists," Cargill said.
Cargill said he hopes Maier's work causes more people to be interested in film photography.
"We have a good set of images from this lady," he said. "I'm just really glad they were saved and they are in the hands of people who really care about them."
Visitors to the exhibit can tour the photo department where the processing was done. They also can see an example of the type Rolleiflex, twin-lens camera that Maier used almost exclusively.
The Rolleiflex was harder to work than a single lens camera, but produced larger negatives that could be developed into larger prints.
"I think people need to see how big and clunky the camera is," Jackowiak said.
The exhibit also includes some of Maier's metal film cartridges with notes in her handwriting and an envelope from a photo processing business she used.
Jackowiak said visitors can learn more about Vivian Maier in a gallery event on Sunday, July 27. At 1 p.m., the documentary "The Vivian Maier Mystery" will be shown, followed at 2 p.m. by a panel discussion that includes Jackowiak, Goldstein and master printers Ron Gordon and Sandy Steinbrecher.
Then, Richard Cahan and Michael Williams, authors of "Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows," sign books and lead a gallery walk at 3 p.m.
For information on the exhibit, contact cod.edu/gallery or (630) 942-3206.