OTTAWA — The estate of a Chicago photographer whose vivid street scenes have won her posthumous plaudits is asking a Canadian court to prohibit a Toronto gallery from showing or selling her work.
Vivian Maier, a long—time nanny who quietly pursued her passion for photography, died in obscurity eight years ago at age 83.
She has since won wide admiration for her deftly composed vignettes of life in New York and Chicago, which capture strolling women in furs, carefree children and white—hatted sailors.
The tens of thousands of photos she took came to public attention after being discovered in storage and auctioned off in lots to several different buyers. Many of her images remained undeveloped in film canisters.
The bulk of Maier’s work is now controlled by John Maloof, who bought a box of her negatives in the hope of finding some useful images for a book project on a Chicago neighbourhood. He eventually posted some of the pictures online, generating intense interest and sparking a career archiving and promoting Maier’s work.
Maloof teamed up with producer Charlie Siskel on the 2013 documentary film “Finding Vivian Maier,” a chronicle of her life — and the stunning discovery of her talent — that was nominated for an Academy Award.
Another collector, Jeffrey Goldstein, acquired much of Maier’s remaining archive. Three years ago he sold some 17,000 black—and—white negatives and slides to Stephen Bulger, who runs a gallery on Toronto’s Queen Street West.
Maier did not leave a will and no legal heirs have been identified, meaning the public administrator for Cook County, Ill., has power to protect her estate’s assets and enforce copyright interests.
The administrator is asking the Federal Court of Canada to prevent Bulger from reproducing, selling or showing the photographer’s work.
In a statement of claim filed with the court, Maier’s estate says Goldstein started producing unauthorized prints from the Maier negatives in 2010 and sold them for well over $1,000 each, and often much higher. The claim also says Goldstein improperly used Maier images in books and public exhibitions.
The statement alleges Goldstein sold the negatives to Bulger because the buyer was located “outside the United States,” and that the parties in the transaction believed the move would make it more difficult for the estate to enforce copyright beyond “the reach of U.S. courts.”
The statement says Bulger, who has mounted Maier exhibitions at his gallery, has profited from the negatives without the estate’s consent.
The estate wants the court to issue temporary and permanent injunctions prohibiting the gallery from displaying or selling the images. It is also seeking an award of damages.
Sana Halwani, a lawyer for the Bulger Gallery, said her client intends to file a defence with the court.
Maloof reached a confidential agreement last year with the public administrator concerning his trove of Maier images.