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Press preview Monday, 28.05., 5 pm
Opening Monday, 28.05., 7 pm
Only few events have moved the photo world in recent years like the discovery of the photographs of Vivian Maier (1926–2009). Since then, many of her pictures taken in the streets of New York City and Chicago from the 1950s on have become instant classics. WestLicht brings the works of the US-American photographer with Austrian roots – her father was born in the former dual monarchy – to Austria for the first time. Tying in with the Vivian Maier show, the upper WestLicht gallery will present the most recent series by Vienna-born artist Stefanie Moshammer (*1988). In Therese, after previous projects took her to Las Vegas, Rio de Janeiro and Haiti, she focuses her camera on her home country.
The discovery of Vivian Maier’s photographs hit the photo world like a bomb in 2009. The story of the hitherto completely unknown photographer, who had made a living as a nanny throughout her lifetime and whose archive of predominantly negatives had been acquired rather incidentally by a young collector at a foreclosure sale, captured the public’s imagination well beyond the traditional photo audiences. “It’s a once-in-a-century find – and a story you can’t make up”, says WestLicht founder Peter Coeln.
Vivian Maier became a star almost overnight, ranked among the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander or Diane Arbus and represented by the most respected galleries. In 2013, the Hollywood-like tale was made into a non-fiction movie, which was shown in cinemas worldwide and nominated at the 2014 Academy Awards for an Oscar as Best Documentary Feature. Maier herself didn’t live to see her late success. She died in 2009 in a nursing home from the effects of a fall, two years after her negatives, prints, 8mm films and audio tapes had been auctioned off when she couldn’t pay the rent of her storage anymore, and just days before the collector finally managed to track her down.
“The widely circulated story – fascinating as it is – of a ‘Mary Poppins with a camera’ should not distract from Maier’s actual work. She has earned her place in photo history due to the quality of her photographs”, WestLicht Chief Curator Rebekka Reuter points out. With her exquisite eye for the moment and for composition, Maier firmly claims her place in the traditionally male-dominated pantheon of street photography. Her numerous self-portraits in mirrors and shop windows in urban space defy the usual narration of the genre, which oftentimes is constructed along conventional role models and archaic schemes of hunter and prey.
On view at WestLicht are more than 100 works from the early 1950s to the late 1970s – Maier’s classic black-and-white pictures, mostly taken with a Rolleiflex, and additional colour photography taken with a Leica.
While Vivian Maier’s photographs create a portrait of her hometowns of New York and Chicago effectively in passing, Stefanie Moshammer explores her direct surroundings in Therese, her most recent body of work, in an entirely different way. In 2016, she presented her series on metropolises Las Vegas and Rio de Janeiro, Vegas and She and Land of Black Milk, at OstLicht – at WestLicht, she photographically returns to Austria. Though the sites of the photographs can be precisely identified – the Prater, the Wiener Wald or the house of her grandparents at Mühlviertel – home in this case is of course rather a concept than a spot on a map. Moshammer’s projects devise subjective topographies. Taking the given as a starting point, her photographs recreate places in an interplay of colours, surfaces, encounters, new and ancient myths. Therese is about the search for one’s own identity, nothing less. The title of the series is the photographer’s middle name. Embedded, formative, unused, at once familiar and strange, it can be read as a symbol for an ambivalent relationship to one’s hometown, which is captured by Moshammer and her distinctive eye for narrative and form in intense images.
Vivian Maier, born 1926 in New York City to a mother of French origin and a father with Austrian-Hungarian roots. According to the sparse records, she spends her childhood and youth between France and New York. Possibly early contact with photography through portrait photographer Jeanne Bertrand, who temporarily lives with Maier and her mother in New York. First photographs from late 1940s France taken with a Kodak Brownie Box. Returns to the USA in 1951 and works as a nanny with a family in Southampton, NY. First Rolleiflex in 1952. Moves to Chicago in 1956. Sets up a darkroom in the bathroom. Until the early 1970s works as a nanny with the family Gensburg in the Chicago suburbs, from 1967 also with the family Raymond. Round-the-world trip in 1959/60. Various employments as housekeeper and nanny during the 1970s. Turns to colour photography and a Leica IIIc. Most of her films remain undeveloped from this time on. Her financial situation grows increasingly tense during the 1980s and 1990s. Stores her archive in a rented storage unit. Since she is living alone and has no family ties, support comes mostly from the sons of the Gensburg family. In 2009, Vivian Maier dies from the effects of a fall in a nursing home in Chicago.
Due to unpaid rent, the storehouse company sells the content of Maier’s storage at an auction in 2007, more than 100,000 negatives, several thousand prints, tape recordings and 8 mm films. John Maloof, a young real estate agent, at that time working on a book about the neighbourhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side and searching for historic images, buys a first box of negatives unseen for 400 USD. Starts to work on the acquired material. In 2009, Maloof publishes some first pictures on his blog and links it to flickr where the photos go viral. He successively acquires additional parts of Maier’s archive and today holds the major share of the photographer’s estate.
Stefanie Moshammer, born 1988 in Vienna, studied Visual Communication at the Höhere Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt in Vienna, Graphic Design and Photography at the University of Arts and Design Linz, as well as Advanced Visual Storytelling at the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus. Her first book Vegas and She was published in 2015 by Fotohof edition, followed by Land of Black Milk in 2017, published by Skinnerboox. Both series were presented in 2016 in a solo exhibition at OstLicht Gallery, Vienna. That same year, Moshammer was selected as a FOAM Talent. In 2017 she was nominated for the ING Unseen Talent Award and won the C/O Berlin Talent Award, resulting in a nomination for the FOAM Paul Huf Award in 2018. Her work has been exhibited in Europa and the USA and has been published in various print and online publications including i-D, Zeit Magazin, Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, New York Magazine, DAZED and VICE. Her photographs have recently been presented in a group show at Photo London, C/O Berlin will host a solo exhibition of her work this July.