I can still remember seeing the striking cover of Vivian Maier: Street Photographer for the first time. The image hints at the story of her life — the mystery surrounding a great talent who went unheralded while alive, but who is now universally recognized and celebrated — while remaining dramatic all on its own.
The documentary about the discovery of her cache of photos, her life, and the work, is equally compelling:
There is something oddly electric about walking the streets of a large city and capturing life as it happens in beautiful photographs. There is an intensity in the captured moment that would otherwise go unseen if not for the skilled and curious eye of a photographer like Vivian Maier. To be able to see the world through someone else’s eyes is always a gift, but especially when the outcome is such mesmerizing images.
After the initial interaction (whether positive or negative), the real test for art, it seems to me, is: Does it compel you to come back again and again? On this basis, Vivian Maier’s work is one of my personal favorites. I never find the images boring, or find myself hurrying past some images to get to others. Her photos almost force you to slow down and really take in what she’s looking at.
Since my daughter was already showing an interest in taking photos (i.e. taking advantage of a moment’s distraction to snatch our smartphones and go directly to camera mode), we decided to go on an adventure into Chicago to take some pictures. Using Vivian Maier as our inspiration, we headed into the city with cameras ready. Instead of people watching, we went looking for a particular subject matter, having narrowed our focus down to rust.
The challenge would be to find areas of rust that we thought could make compelling photographs (the real challenge was editing down the hundreds of — mostly forgettable — photos we ended up taking):
After spending the better part of a day in the city looking for rust, one side-effect was we saw intriguing areas of rust everywhere we went for days afterward. For instance, the last photo above was taken at a farm near us. Even now, if we’re out walking, my daughter still points to interesting examples of rust. It’s amazing how well the human brain can focus if you tell it where to look.
Part of the ulterior motive behind our day of photography was to start thinking about rust as a design element for our new house. Since we will have an Urban Rustic theme, we knew what the basic elements were going to be:
For metal, I knew it would include exposed lag bolts, washers and nuts, along with some industrial/farm tools, in addition to a couple of areas dedicated to rust. Incorporating rust in a dramatic, yet limited, way would prove more challenging and time consuming than I first imagined (more on this later).