The efforts of a crusading lawyer could pull Vivian Maier’s from the public eye for years.
Maier was a nanny who spent her free time photographing on the streets of Chicago and elsewhere, and her negatives, which she never published, were sold at auction for about $400 to a guy named John Maloof several years before Maier died in 2009. Since then, Maloof and other have been hard at work developing her negatives, showing her work in galleries and making a profit off of her work.
Now, her work is in legal limbo, thanks to the efforts of a photographer-turned-lawyer, David C. Deal. Initially, Deal was bothered that people unrelated to Maier were profiting off of her work, and with that wrinkle, he decided to investigate. According to the NYTimes, Deal maintains that Maloof has not purchased the rights to Maier’s work from her closest living heir. Maier had no children of her own, and Maloof found a cousin of hers in France, from whom he purchased the rights for an unknown amount. Deal claims he has found a closer heir.
This could very well take a while, years at least, but Maier’s work is already disappearing from galleries. The reason that the case’ll take so long is that her relatives are not in the United States. It’s unclear what will happen to her work after the case is settled, but it’s certainly an interesting case to watch unfold.