It's Even More Complicated With the Vivian Maier Case

During her life in the 1950's and 60's Vivian Maier shot hundreds of rolls of film, sometimes never bothering to have them processed. Her eye for composition and contrast made the images some of the best captured depicting city life during that time, but at the time of her death, no one knew her name or the boxes upon boxes full of negatives that sat in storage lockers in Chicago.

2 years before Maier's death in 2009 a young real estate agent named John Maloof purchases a box of Maier's belongings at auction in 2007 and discovers her photography. He would later go on to promote and produce a documentary on Maier's work and give it the respect it deserved. Acclaim quickly followed and the attention drew lawyers out in search of heirs (2nd cousins once removed were found). As the lawyers and courts begin to work out the details to who rightfully owns the work and copyright, a new detail emerges to complicate a complicated matter even further... She kept her work in storage lockers that she stopped paying for... Did the storage companies contract entitle them to her possessions by not paying her bills?

How storage lockers and distant relatives change the Vivian Maier case

Maier died without leaving a will or immediate next of kin, which means that her estate, along with the rights to her photos, would have gone to her closest living relative. As far as anyone knew, that relative was a cousin in France named Sylvain Jaussaud, who figures quite prominently in Maloof's documentary, "Finding Vivian Maier."

But a report by Randy Kennedy in The New York Times last week reveals that there might be another cousin in France, a man by the name of Francis Baille, who might also be entitled to status as an heir. And according to the lawyers I interviewed about the case (experts unconnected to Maloof, Jaussaud or Baille), the rights to some of Maier's work may hinge on a rental agreement she signed for a storage unit — a storage unit on which she later defaulted. -Continue Reading

A Legal Battle Over Vivian Maier’s Work

Self portrait by Vivian Maier

Self portrait by Vivian Maier

VIA THE NYTIMES --- The story of the street photographer Vivian Maier has always been tangled — she worked much of her life as a nanny, keeping her artistic life a secret, and only after she died in 2009, at the age of 83, nearly penniless and with no family, were her pictures declared to be among the most remarkable of the 20th century. Now a court case in Chicago seeking to name a previously unknown heir is threatening to tie her legacy in knots and could prevent her work from being seen again for years.

The case was filed in June by a former commercial photographer and lawyer, David C. Deal, who said he became fascinated with Maier’s life in law school and took it upon himself to try to track down an heir. He did so, he said, because he was upset that prints of her work — from more than 100,000 negatives found in a storage locker at an auction, containing images now possibly worth millions of dollars — were being sold by people who came to own the negatives but had no family connection to Maier, who spent most of her childhood in France and worked in Chicago, where she died. -continue reading