Last Friday, I bundled myself up, tucked myself into bright red hat, scarf and gloves, and went into town, to meet a lovely friend, chat, eat, and then seek out something I have been waiting exactly a year to own.
I never got my hands on it. It was a book about Vivian Maier – ‘Vivian Maier: Street Photographer’, carefully put together by John Maloof, the man who now owns hundreds of thousands of the late Vivian’s incredible street photographs.
The Gallery of Photography, where I was determined to buy this book, was unexpectedly closed, and so I left, just a little dejected. To tell the truth, I had wanted to buy the book as a present for a friend, and though I couldn’t really afford two copies, I just knew in my heart that once I had one in my hand, I’d need another.
On the way out of the building, I saw a man standing in the doorway to the women’s bathroom, turning around, slowly touching the wooden doors. In his hand was a stick, perched on his nose was a pair of dark glasses. I reached for his arm and asked him where he wanted to go. The men’s bathroom? ‘The main door,’ he told me, and off we went, me awkwardly explaining where we were – “There’s nothing in the way… Here’s the door… Here we are, now: Temple Bar’. He left silently.
When I’m out, I always have a camera in my bag, but I realised recently that I am often too self-conscious to use it. I’m not a ‘photographer’, and I feel self-conscious taking out a camera and capturing a moment.
Vivian Maier seemed to have no such worries – but then again, she had an incredible secret talent. We are not alike except that we are two women with the mechanical ability to capture an image we find pleasing, but she helps to encourage me to just pick up a camera and go with it. In this age where everything is documented online, where people put up their photos for others to see on Flickr or blogs, sometimes it’s impossible for you to know your own ability. You scrutinise your work – whatever the medium – because you can compare it so easily to others’.
But Vivian Maier’s maxim appeared to be ‘No one will see this, except you, so just take the photo’. No matter if she thought anything like this at all or not, these are words that are inspiring, words that show that you don’t have to create something in order to prove you are the best or most talented photographer/writer/singer/insert-profession-here.
You can create just for you, for your enjoyment. For the feeling of reading back your own words, and knowing that only you will be satisfied by them; for the knowledge that only you will know the difference between the image you pictured in your head when you pressed the shutter button and the image that appeared, like magic, on the photographic paper in your hands. It’s not for anyone else; it’s just for you. So if people see it, or read it, or listen to it, and they don’t enjoy it, that’s fine. It’s just for you.
And here is what encouraged me to write this: a lovely blog post about Vivian by Laurence Mackin of The Irish Times that is more up-to-date than my one, and a piece on RTÉ Arena, also about Vivian. Enjoy!