I think someone who isn't a pro can create photographs as good as someone who is a professional. I think Maier falls into that category. I think she had a great eye and it doesn't matter whether or not if she made a living from photography, I think we are all better off having access to her work.
Compare it with this one on William Klein, also by Imagine and a really entertaining and informing watch. One of the best photography documentaries I've seen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnN9LMvjM7Y
You could tell they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel to make the Maier film.
I'd like to think she might have been here, yes. I'd love to ask her directly about her work, instead of indirectly relying on the opinions of armchair "authorities" who, like myself, never even met the photographer.
Pity that she wasn't privy back in the day to feedback from all of these current authorities we are blessed with today. Maybe she'd have been able to avoid all of the horrors of failing in the 1950s to live up to the fads... err, standards... of the 2010s. Poor woman didn't schmooze with celebrities, have a high-powered agent, and probably never even heard of the Rule of Thirds. How could her work have had any lasting impact whatsoever? Why did she even bother?
Over the years I have looked at many reproductions of HCB photographs. My sense is that he wanted very much to make them because he had something he wanted very badly to say. But there is a difference for me when I look at Ms. Maier's "lesser" photographs. In her case I get the distinct feeling that she wasn't making them because she wanted to. She was making them because she HAD to. As if she couldn't have stopped even if she had wanted to stop, and that the subject matter was largely irrelevant and just an excuse. I could be wrong, of course. But that's what I think I see.
For me this single aspect trumps all of the other more formal academic classifications and rules that the experts try to apply to judge worthiness. The difference in emotional investment between "want to" and "have to" is enormous. And raw emotional involvement—regardless of its source—is the most powerful creative motivation anyone can have. It's the difference between what Mr. Picker referred to as "admirable" photographs that are perfect, and "wonderful" photographs that are sublime. And I believe he was absolutely correct in that differentiation.
Personally, I'll always choose the lesser wonderful photograph that shows a deeper emotional connection to the photographer over an admirable photograph that is simply a well-executed, dry exercise in perfect compositional rule-following. I want to know that when the photographer finally released that shutter, it was because there was no other viable option remaining on the table. No more questions to be asked. No more answers to be given. It just had to be done.
I agree with Ken. For me most of her photographs fall into the wonderful and sublime category.
For my part, I find myself moved in some way by virtually every Maier photograph I have seen, even her "lesser" ones, which is something I cannot say for HCB, Ansel Adams or Edward Weston. (The only other photographer who provokes a similar response in me is my own favourite, Willy Ronis, but I digress.) I don't believe I am just following the rest of the herd like in this like just another sheep, but that is for others to judge. I had the same visceral response to her work from the very first day I saw her story and images appear on the internet, and that was before she began to be labeled as either genius or wannabe.
As regards the debate surrounding her place as an artist, I believe that some people find comfort and optimism in the idea that there are unknown geniuses amongst us while others require more stringent provenance before granting admittance to the "inner circle". Both points of view are valid; in the fullness of time Vivian Maier will find her proper place among either the very good or among the great photographers of our day.
"Being art isn't a property of a thing, but in how we perceive that thing."
(I found this quote this morning in a video on 12-tone music, and it's stuck in my head now)