Buy books not gear (1)


With the start into the New Year and the fourth year of this blog, I’m launching a new series called “Buy books not gear”. As stated in my last post of 2018, I firmly believe that by reading good photography books we can improve our own photography much more than by buying yet another new camera or lens.

I’m starting the series giving you a glimpse into a marvelous coffee table book about the work of street photographer Vivian Maier, that I couldn’t resist picking up after seeing it in the window of a book store.

For the book introduction and a few of Vivians photographs continue after the jump…

Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found 

With her beloved Rolleiflex hung around the neck, always ready to shoot, Vivian Maier (1926-2009) wandered the streets of Chicago where she worked as a nanny for various families for many years. She photographed everything that came before her lens. She was an amazing street photographer, captured live as it happened since the early 1950’s, first in black and white, later also in color. Vivian photographed with a fine sense of humor, and, occasionally, with a tendency to be bizarre. As many of her photographs show, she felt connected to the poor and miserable.


Famous street photographer Joel Meyerowitz expressed himself enthusiastically about Vivian’s work: “She had an unadulterated view and a genuine understanding of human nature, photography and the street.

Vivian took numerous self portraits,  she always photographed herself indirectly: in a shop window, in an escape of room mirrors, in a rear-view mirror. Sometimes she appeared only as a shadow, like a ghost living only through the camera.

It was only by chance that her extensive photographic work was discovered and snatched from oblivion. Former real estate agent John Maloof had bought up her estate at an auction. While cleaning it out, he found boxes with negatives, film rolls and other things, including letters, bills, receipts, cinema tickets, bus and train tickets, several tapes discussed by her like a diary. The photographic find was gigantic: 150,000 negatives, 700 color film and 2000 black-and-white film rolls, all undeveloped, as well as 8 and 16 millimeter films.

Maloof has recognized the treasure he had accidentally discovered and began to market it: First he began to scan the negatives, then he put pictures on a website, with a tremendous response, and finally he organized exhibitions. Since 2011 he has been sending Vivian Maier’s work around the world. The photographer herself didn’t notice any more the hype surrounding her, she died lonely and impoverished at the age of 83 in 2009.

I adore Vivian Maier and her approach to street photography, as her style is very similar to how I like to shoot in the streets. I love her sense of humor as well as her direct approach to many of her subjects, her eye for seemingly lost details of everyday life. Her portraits of everyday people are powerful, and through her work she perfectly transmits the atmosphere of life in in 50’s – 70’s.

I find her work  full of inspiration for the aspiring street photographer as well as the seasoned veteran. If you have a chance to see an exhibition of her photographs I highly recommend visiting it. For all others interested in Vivian Maier I can only recommend this superb book: Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found  (German Title is Vivian Maier – Das Meisterwerk der unbekannten Photographin).

The book also provides an in-depth introduction to Vivian and tells the story of the discovery of her work by John Maloof.

All images in this post (except the first) are by Vivian Maier and taken out of the book for the purpose of this review.

I hope you liked the first episode of my new series “Buy books not gear”.

If you look for tips and inspirations around photography, check out my free Learning Center. Here, I will also post the links to this and all future book reviews.

Wish you a great Wednesday!


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66 thoughts on “Buy books not gear (1)

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  1. I was inspired by an article that I read after the initial discovery of her work. I then waited with palpable anticipation for the documentary to become available through a streaming service. I was not disappointed.
    I’ll be adding this book to my wish list for the coming year. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for choosing to do this on books, not gear. I read a few books and magazines on photography last year and there was a huge difference in my work. I will definitely look out to buy the Vivian Meyer’s book. It’s just that getting good photography books around here can be quite challenging.

    1. Thanks, much appreciated! There is some of her work being exhibited in Berlin right now, (in an exhibition of the work of female photographers) I hope to see it! Have a great weekend! Marcus

  3. Excellent idea on the book, particularly true for those that can’t get to a photography gallery or museum that will show the work up close. I’d also encourage everyone who has access to the New York Times to look at the Lens. Excellent articles and images. Here is a link to their site. The downside is that you are limited to the number of times you can access the Times without a subscription.

    1. Thanks for this info, Tim, much appreciated! I was thinking about getting myself a NYT subscription anyway, so maybe this pushes me over the hump 😉 Have a great weekend! Marcus

      1. It’s a great paper and I understand there is a great deal on subscribing. A free month and then 1/2 price for the rest of the year. I’ve not dug around to see but I did here that on The Daily. Considering you can get the NY Times on its app anywhere, well maybe not anywhere but most places it is a joy to have at your finger tips.

  4. This is great. Our photography mentor used to remind us about this : “buy books not gear”. Thank you for the review.

  5. Oh, I do like her style of street photography. She has such wonderful images and not all her photos are straight-on, which tends to give me a little bit of angst. I am going to have to look for this one. Yay! Thank you so much, Marcus.

    1. Thanks, Lois, for sharing your thoughts! No reason for angst. As I have written many times on this blog, the rejection quota doing this kind of shots is really little, and always polite, so no reason not to shoot street portraits! Try it! Marcus

  6. Thanks for this advice and an introduction (for me) to this wonderful photographer. How tragic that, as is too often the case with brilliant artists, “she died lonely and impoverished.”

  7. Great idea for a series…can we have one called “Remember to read the photography books” next? 😺 I have lots which I never remember to get off the shelf….

  8. Yes Marcus, I have heard about Vivian and how wonderful it was that her photos were saved. I love to buy books on photographers, especially Scottish ones 🙂 Lynne

      1. Oh luckily for me my husband has a fondness for them too, we had lots of book tokens for Christmas. So last Sat was spent in our favourite book shop……so I guess we are book nerds too….nothing better 🙂 Lynne

  9. Marcus, thank you very much for the new series “Buy Books not Gear”. I am very excited about these series. I have two books about Vivian Maier at home. I got them one year ago as gifts. Vivian Maier is my favorite street photographer! And always be!
    Wonderful, wonderful post about her!
    Looking forward for your new posts from these series.

    1. I’m so happy you have already discovered Vivian Maier’s work. And I’m glad you like the new series. I’m already thinking what to do next. Wish you a wonderful weekend! Marcus

  10. Thank you for this introduction! I think I already fell in love with her work. I love spontaneous, unframed humor in photography, in the little details and in recognizing a good moment to shoot. I’ll need to get my hands on this book at some point! (I also agree that gear doesn’t matter that much in this day and age… unless you want to sell large prints. Otherwise, not really.) Happy new year Marcus! 🙂 xxSnow

  11. What an amazing find! I can’t fathom all that unprocessed film. Thanks for the review. It does make me want to just get out and photograph more often. 🙂

  12. Nice review, Marcus. And it used to be: buy books or film, not lenses. Totally amazed by all those unprocessed rolls of film. About the same as Garry Winogrand… who had 2500 rolls. Just amazing.

  13. Great idea, and fully agree re. books vs gear. Vivian Maier is one of my favourite street photographers… the film documentary about how her work was discovered was also fantastic. Looking forward to the next book episode!

  14. Wonderful post and idea for a series, Marcus. I am enthralled by Vivian Maier- the astounding story of the trove of work discovered and her images that she created which masterfully document a time and place. Thankful that it all was revealed. Happy New Year to you and your family!

    1. Thanks, Peter, really appreciate your feedback. The photos I included are some of my favorites from the book. There will be more book introductions, on an irregular cadence. Marcus

  15. I am totally with you on books, not gear, Marcus Oh, and I still haven’t got around to buying the Vivian Meyer book….it’s been on my list awhile

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