Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Return of the Saddle Shoe.

What are Saddle Shoes?

Throw off that pleated skirt, baggy sweater, bobby sox and loafers and grab your poodle skirt and saddle shoes, it's time to rock and roll!

In the post-war era of jive, jitterbug and The King, Elvis Presley, a two-toned snappy shoe replaced the respectable penny loafer. That crazy new footwear was the saddle shoe and it bunny-hopped and bee-bopped its way into popular culture.

The classic saddle shoe is a dress-style shoe with a leather white toe box and back, and a black instep and vamp, which includes the throat, tongue and eyelets. The instep and vamp together form a shape much like a saddle in the center of the shoe, hence the name. A contrasting black strip also ran up the rear of the shoe at the back of the heel, often with a buckle at the top. The rubberized composite low-heeled sole was coral colored.

With the popularity of the saddle shoe other two-toned colors emerged, including black shoes with white saddles, white shoes with red, and tan shoes with brown. At one time or another it's likely that nearly every conceivable color combination has found its way into the saddle shoe.

In 1957 Elvis Presley thrilled a generation in Jailhouse Rock with his ultra-cool blue eyes, sexy gyrations and deep resonate voice -- and he did it in saddle shoes as well as in another up and coming shoe that would eventually replace the saddle shoe: the humble sneaker. James Dean, who died in 1955 at the age of 24, was another icon and lightening rod for youth. One of the most famous photographs of James Dean shows him standing in jeans and sneakers. With Dean and Presley both embracing this new trend it was just a matter of time before saddle shoes ended up at the back of the closet, and sneakers took their place up front.

Still, despite the more casual dress of today's fashions, saddle shoes continue to be widely available at most department stores, bearing testament to their enduring appeal. They bring to mind an era of innocence, naivety, youth and the sounds of a generation caught between the greasers of the '50s and the hippies of the '60's. Their classic look and styling has endured the changing times, and on those occasions when sneakers won't due, saddle shoes remain a hip choice for eclectic shoe lovers everywhere. Try a pair on and see if you don't feel the magic!
 June 17, 2009
The All-American Back From Japan

By DAVID COLMAN / June 17, 2009 / The New York Times / http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/17/fashion/18codes.html?em

AS you have surely noticed, all- American preppy style has come back for another goround. There is madras everything, button-downs everywhere. Nantucket reds — washed-out pink pants — are the new khakis; Sperry Top-Siders are more common on roof decks than top decks; and the Polo pony and the Lacoste crocodile are now but two of the critters in a zoo of polo shirt insignia.

Lately the trend has taken on a new dimension, via the Internet, with a resurgence of interest in once obscure American brands. Alongside the familiar L. L. Bean duck boots, Brooks Brothers shirts and Ray-Ban Wayfarers, there are Filson duffel bags, Gokey boots, Alden dress shoes, Gitman oxford shirts, Quoddy Trail moccasins, Wm. J. Mills canvas totes — to name but a few. Moribund brands like Southwick and Woolrich are being revived with new designs. And the old-school look has been furthered by popular American fashion labels — small houses like Thom Browne, Band of Outsiders and Benjamin Bixby along with megabrands like J. Crew and Ralph Lauren.

As fashion moments go, this is as all-American as it gets, right?

Actually, no. What makes today’s prepidemic so fascinating is how it is, surprisingly enough, so Japanese. The look has its roots in the United States, to be sure. But the spirit, rigor and execution of today’s prep moment is as Japanese as Sony. One need only flip through the intriguing Japanese book “Take Ivy,” a collection of photographs taken in 1965 by Teruyoshi Hayashida on Eastern college campuses, to get the drift.

“Take Ivy” has always been extremely rare in the United States, a treasure of fashion insiders that can fetch more than $1,000 on eBay and in vintage-book stores. But scanned images from the book have been turning up online in recent months. Ricocheting around the network of sartorially obsessed Web sites and blogs (like acontinuouslean.com and thetrad .blogspot.com), it has aroused renewed interest for its apparent prescience of preppy style. (In the United States, the word preppy came into popular use only in 1970, thanks to the best-selling book and top-grossing movie “Love Story”; and the full flowering of preppy style would not arrive until 1980 with the best-selling “Official Preppy Handbook.”)

But “Take Ivy” was not prescient; it was totally timely, having been commissioned by Kensuke Ishizu, who was the founder of Van Jacket, an Ivy Leagueobsessed clothing line that was a sensation among Japanese teenagers and young men in the early 1960s. Mr. Ishizu was a kind of Ralph Lauren avant la lettre.

“You could have called it a Van look,” recalled Daiki Suzuki, the designer and founder of Engineered Garments (channeling vintage workwear) and the designer of the revamped Woolrich Woolen Mills line (channeling 1950s New England). He remembers “Take Ivy” from his childhood in Japan and how the Ivy look, as it is generally called there, became basic in the ’70s and ’80s, as the craze for American things like Levi’s and Red Wing boots accelerated. In 1989, Mr. Suzuki moved to the United States to work for a large Japanese store scouting for new American designers and obscure brands to import, like White’s Boots from Washington, Russell Moccasin from Wisconsin and Duluth Pack backpacks from Minnesota.

“It’s funny — this authentic Americana, people in the States didn’t care about it at all,” Mr. Suzuki said. “But I would take it back, and everybody would say, ‘Wow, this is really great, what is this?’ Now it’s different. People here like it now.”

HE would know. In 1999, once the Internet began eroding the specialness of his small “Made in the USA” finds, he founded Engineered Garments with the idea of updating vintage American pieces for modern tastes, and for five years he sold the line only in Japan. In the last couple of years Americans have come around, and now the line is a hot seller at Barneys New York.

As curious as this American-export style of business sounds, it is not unusual. Post Overalls, a Japanese- owned line based (and made) in America since 1993, started selling here only this spring. J. Press, the venerable Ivy League clothier founded in New Haven in 1902 and bought by the Japanese fashion giant Kashiyama in 1986, has four modest stores in this country — in Cambridge, Mass.; New Haven; New York; and Washington — but sells roughly six times as much as American made J. Press merchandise in Japan at department stores like Isetan.

The Japanese penchant for Americana is not merely a story of economics; it is a matter of style. It has not been unusual for Japanese men to wear the Ivy look in head-to-toe extremes once unthinkable here — say, a blazer, tie, plaid shorts and knee socks. But given the zeal for American designers like Thom Browne and Scott Sternberg of Band of Outsiders, who tinker with old-fashioned Americana (and whose lines are made in the United States and are very popular in Japan), extremism is finally becoming fashionable here. A column in this month’s GQ by a to-the-boatshoe- born Southerner even inveighs against the trend, labeling it a case of arrivistes going overboard. But whose Ivy look has the more valid claim?

Mr. Suzuki remembers the first time he met Mr. Browne, when they were both starting their lines. “He was wearing a gray suit, button-down shirt, tie, cashmere cardigan and wingtips,” he recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘I’ve never seen an American dress in such Japanese style.’” Mr. Browne is flattered. “It’s amazing,” he said. “The Japanese get the whole perfect American thing better than Americans. They understand that it’s an identifiable style around the world, this American look. We think we appreciate it, but we really don’t, not like they do.”

But that’s changing. Not long ago, men scoffed at dress shorts, let alone wore them to work. Now, they are a summer norm, along with seersucker suits, ribbon belts and horn-rimmed glasses. While some men still prefer it low-key — plain boat shoes, a faded Lacoste shirt with jeans or a khaki suit with a madras tie — even full-on Japanese prep — blue blazer, button-down, bermudas, loafers — can look good if you have the attitude to carry it off.

As fascinating and confusing as this cross-pollination is, the story of ostensible outsiders borrowing from and bettering the holy tartan has an august history. Brooks Brothers, the country’s oldest operating men’s clothier, and the venerable Ray-Ban brand are owned by the Italian Del Vecchio family. Erich Segal, the author of “Love Story,” and Lisa Birnbach, who put together “The Official Preppy Handbook,” are Jewish, as is Scott Sternberg of Band of Outsiders (who this week won the Council of Fashion Designers of America award for men’s wear, in a tie) and, of course, the look’s most famous exponent, Ralph Lauren. And, by the way, those two most prep fabrics, gingham and seersucker, came to the United States, via Britain, from India.

André Benjamin, a k a André 3000, the designer of the bright Ivy-inspired Benjamin Bixby line (perhaps the only celebrity line with a truly fresh viewpoint), grew up in Atlanta amid the preppy boom of the ’80s and early ’90s. He remembers how schoolmates spent their money on clothes and cars, wearing two or three polo shirts at a time and fetishizing prepmobiles like the Volkswagen Cabriolet.

“I can’t speak for how it’s been taken up in Asian community,” he said, “but in the black community, you’re always striving to rise above. Most black kids don’t even go to college, and you just hope you can will yourself to get there.

“Like a lot of things, the myth is greater than the actual thing. The WASPy lifestyle, with the parents and traditions, it looks great, but appreciating it from the outside brings a whole different perspective. Ralph didn’t come from it, either. It’s all about having your own twist.”

To Mr. Benjamin, the most appealing part of the old prep look was not its WASPiness but its suggestion of an easy, well-dressed freedom from anxiety, the same entitled naïveté of Oliver Barrett IV, the WASPy Romeo of “Love Story.”

“This golden age of Ivy League style we’re talking about — the blue blazers, the chinos, the sweatshirts, the tweed jackets — what I like is that it’s a look without looking like you thought about it. It looks like you care, but you don’t care.”

Of course, as one of the world’s best and most colorfully dressed men, Mr. Benjamin cares deeply, and it shows in his clothes, as it does in all the new prep gear. And so what if it does? It may not be true of love, but as any boarding-school student can tell you, preppy means never having to say you’re sorry.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Enthusiasms By MARK GIROUARD.

Does a neglected masterpiece by Jane Austen enshrine her first love affair? Who was Vita Sackville West's real grandfather? What clues are there to the identity of 'Walter', doyen of Victorian pornographers? When and why did P.G. Wodehouse mutate from hack to genius? Was Oscar Wilde really down and out in Paris? Was Brideshead really Madresfield?

These and other excursions into literary or social history have developed out of Mark Girouard's spare time enthusiasms, as diversions from his main occupation as an architectural historian. In nine essays he calls attention to points that have not been noticed before, corrects fallacies that have got into general circulation, suggests, identifies, redates, refutes, or pours a little cold water on unjustified romanticisms. Three further essays sample another enthusiasm, his own family background, and introduce characters such as the dwarf who had to stand on a bench to address the South African Parliament, the colonial governor who fell in love with his niece, and the dowager duchess with whom he spent his childhood on the edge of the park at Chatsworth.

Mark Girouard

Mark Girouard was born in 1931. He is a British architectural writer, an authority on the country house, leading architectural historian, and the biographer of James Stirling. He worked for Country Life magazine until 1967. He was Slade Professor of Fine Art from 1975 to 1976, and was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1987. Among his many books are Elizabethan Architecture (2009) and Life in the English Country House (1978).
Douglas Blain, Secretary of the Spitalfields Trust with Mark Girouard at 9 Elder St.


The prolific architectural historian Mark Girouard is the author of the revelatory, endlessly entertaining Life in the English Country House, one of the great works of social and material history. It now emerges that he has another, more miscellaneous side, and has happily squandered incalculable hours attempting to winkle out answers to questions over which few people lose sleep. The excellent fruits of this intellectual wantonness can be found in Enthusiasms, a tidy little volume of fifteen essays and explorations.

Girouard begins with the question of when Jane Austen wrote Catherine, or the Bower, the unfinished novel that is usually considered to be the last of her juvenilia. In a carefully laid out argument he convincingly plumps for 1795-96 over the commonly accepted 1792, placing the work not only after Susan but also after the first version of Pride and Prejudice. This is the sort of revolutionary declaration that will cause Janeites to reach for their smelling salts. Nonetheless, it is not nearly so arresting to me as his remarks on the near absence of servants from Austen's novels, something I have wondered about myself. "Jane Austen's drafts," writes Girouard, "must have needed alterations to bring them in line with growing early nineteenth-century notions of propriety." And an important element in that was the portrayal -- or non-portrayal -- of servants. Though there is a lively maid in Catherine, Austen has almost entirely banned these essential creatures from the highly polished published work, which novels, says Girouard, "it should be remembered, were published at the time when tunnels were being built in some country houses so that service and servants could move to and fro without being seen by the gentry."

In another reassessment, "Up and down with Oscar Wilde," Girouard displays a strange animus toward his subject, showing how relentlessly this "Irishman on the climb in London" promoted himself. He then tots up how much money the broken aesthete actually had at his disposal for the last, reputedly impoverished three and a half years of his life, arriving at "around £70,000 a year in modern value." In the course of pillorying Wilde as a brown-nosing, jumped-up poetaster who cried poormouth, Girouard acquaints his readers with some of the arcana attached to an artist or writer breaking into Society's various bastions at the time, from the more accessible dinners and receptions to the fastness of the country houses. Of the last named he observes, "Only a few were given entrée to those, for reasons not always clear -- Landseer but not Millais, Dickens but not Thackeray, Lear but not Carroll, Tennyson but not Browning, Barrie and James, but not Galsworthy or Hardy." And, note to the socially ambitious: it was "'Saturday to Monday' parties" to which the chosen might be invited; " 'weekend' was considered a vulgar expression."

Girouard's appetite for research gets a thorough workout in "Walter wins: a hunt but no kill," an engagingly unsuccessful investigation into the true identity of the libidinous "Walter" of My Secret Life, first published in eleven volumes between 1882 and 1894. (Girouard keeps a three-volume edition of the work in his bathroom, "very much to hand on the bottom shelf, alongside the Rev. F. E. Witts's Diary of a Cotswold Parson and Bernard Walke's Twenty Years at St Hilary.") Claiming to have had sex with over 1,200 women, Walter was "a compulsive collector and cataloguer" and, as such, "a dedicated worker and happy in his work." Girouard's account of searching for Walter -- his fossicking through public records, sleuthing about in the streets, and visiting possible sites of bygone conquests -- is, to my mind at least, more thrilling than that priapic hero's adventures.

Throughout these essays Girouard shows a wry, unillusioned sense of how the historical record is fashioned. He begins "The myth of Tennyson's disinheritance," for instance, with this edifying picture:
What is that gentle sound of rustling, clipping and scratching, that faint smell of burning, which the sensitive ear and nose can catch as background to the brassier sounds and smells of the decades around 1900? It is made by the widows and children of great Victorians at work deleting, cutting out and burning all the passages in letters, all the unpublished writings of parents or spouses which could deface the marble perfection of the portraits of greatness which they or suitably emasculated biographers are preparing for the world. Not always just the widows, for sometimes the act of purgation goes off while the great man himself, still magnificently bearded in his ruin, sits benignly in the background as the good work goes on.
It may be that you do not count the disinheritance of Tennyson or, rather, of his father, George, among the great crimes against humanity, but Girouard's debunking of the legend is nonetheless a wonderful example of how history is shaped by a combination of special pleading and ignorance or disregard of the usages of the past. Girouard shows -- in detail that I will leave you to savor -- how the first official chronicler of Tennyson's life, his son Lionel, took two indisputable facts, sheared off their historical circumstances,  and combined them to produce a venerable, ahistorical fiction.

In "P. G. Wodehouse: from hack to genius" Girouard ponders the question of why and how the great man was able to write such quantities of bilge and yet produce gold. "It would not much worry me," he tells us, "if…all his books published before 1922 and after 1949, were to disappear." It is a judgment he alters somewhat in the course of his consideration of the nature of Wodehouse's fiction, though he does believe that it was likely that the author himself, ever alert to sales, couldn't really tell the difference between his good and bad works. Boiled down, Girouard believes that Wodehouse's short-story writing sharpened up the novels of the golden period, and that his exile from Britain after the war extinguished the spark. He also believes that someone called "Robert McCrane" wrote a biography of Wodehouse in 2004; it was Robert McCrum.  

Among the other questions Girouard takes up are how much time John Masefield, who would have had us believe that he "must go down to the seas again / To the lonely seas and the sky," spent as a mariner. It was, in fact, four months, endured when he was in his teens, and, as Girouard puts it, "for the rest of his long life he made his home as far from the sea as possible." He sets the record straight on which castle appears in Charlotte Mews's poem "Ken," arguing for Arundel in Sussex  instead of Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight, and gets caught up in the carryings-on of Vita Sackville-West's grandmother, Pepita. On the face of it, these are not subjects to drive all other thoughts from the minds of most people, but Girouard opens them up beyond petty detail, expanding them with his understanding of historical context, and brings such an infectious mood of inquiry to them that they become irresistible.

Girouard finishes with three essays about his family: the Jewish Solomons who, among other things, pretty much ran St. Helena while Napoleon was there; his French-Canadian grandfather, Lieutenant (later Sir) E.P.C. Girouard), an engineer whose exploits included building Kitchener's impossible railroad connecting Wadi Halfa with Khartoum; and his aunt Evie, who took him and his two sisters in after his mother was killed in an automobile accident when he was nine. The last, in particular is an affecting, often funny exercise in stiff-upper-lippery, as well as a meditation on the habits of the wellborn and the decline of the servant class.

Girouard tells us in his brief introduction that he has written these pieces "for pleasure, not instruction, and one of the pleasures for me has been to escape from the burden of a professional historian, the need to provide footnotes and to qualify my judgements." It is that freedom, no doubt, that contributes to the book's overall tone, a uniquely winning one of easygoing elegance and scholarliness lightened by jouncing, irrepressible enthusiasm.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Majesty and Mortar: Britain’s Great Palaces / Dan Cruickshank / BBC Four.

Majesty and Mortar: Britain’s Great Palaces, review: 'Dan Cruickshank for BBC Trust chairman'
Michael Pilgrim enjoys BBC Four's Majesty and Mortar, in which  showed that he's a World Heritage Site in his own right

A man’s character may be judged by his adjectives. Here are a few deployed by Dan Cruickshank in Majesty and Mortar: Britain’s Great Palaces (BBC Four). Mag-nificent. Palatial. Stu-pendous. Heroic. Princely. Phenomenal. Absolutely wonderful. Extra-ordinary.
But the effusive adjectives are only half of it. Cruickshank’s entire sentence construction is an enthusiastic splurge of arty upspeak, eccentric metre and sotto voce – the latter best demonstrated by his reference to “Henry VIII’s [whisper] bedchamber”. Sometimes he sounds more like he’s relaying office gossip than architectural history.
As the alliterative title suggests, Majesty and Mortar was elitist. No attempt at social relativism here. Cruickshank was not suggesting that an abandoned public lavatory in Ramsgate is on a cultural par with Blenheim. Nor that a south London greyhound stadium was up there with Stonehenge. This was all about big, expensive pads built by people with shedloads of dosh, their own armies and no electoral mandate.
In the first part, our Dan, in signature brown-waxed raincoat, glided through the Tower of London, St James’s Palace and Hampton Court. It was, in truth, much like all Cruickshank films. But a second bottle of Krug is just as good as the first, so no harm in that.
Cruickshank is brilliant at giving meaning to detail. There was much exposition on oak hammer beams – with two arches for extra structural integrity, if you must know. Then there was the open hearth in the middle of Henry VIII’s great hall at Hampton. It might seem superfluous, given that the palace has modern fireplaces and chimneys, but was symbolic of ancient English values and Arthurian mysticism. Smoke and mirrors for Tudor propaganda.
Henry loved his palaces. In fact, he covered most of what is now central London in them, before hitting the stockbroker belt. His biggest construction was the wonderfully named and long gone Nonsuch in Surrey, so called because there was no other such. The sprawling edifice enjoyed one of the earliest examples of cisterns and piped water in England. With all those wives, you need bathrooms.
Cruickshank is a World Heritage Site in his own right. In fact, he and Jonathan Meades are about the only people on telly who sound like they know more about their subject than the autocue.

So forget Lord Coe and any number of cultural apparatchiks. Cruickshank for BBC Trust chairman.

Majesty and Mortar: Britain's Great Palaces, TV review: Dan Cruickshank scores again with an engrossing alternative to the World Cup

The problem with the World Cup – besides Fifa, the impact on the Brazilian economy, and England's quadrennial pants-downing – is that its domination of the TV schedules is so absolute that there's sometimes not a tremendous amount else for your common-or-garden TV hack to mull over. Even the Radio Times – whose daily picks denote a rigorous thumbing through the schedules worthy of a bloke in the pub with a creased copy of TV Quick and a pink highlighter – selected a 9am repeat of Frasier as one of its Wednesday highlights. Admittedly it's a great episode, the one where Frasier thinks he has a stalker – but it doesn't bode well for a classic night's viewing. Not when Honduras vs Switzerland is on elsewhere.

Thanks goodness, then, for Dan Cruickshank. Whereas Honduran jugador Carlo Costly is the one attracting the big, big ratings on BBC1, Cruickshank, the Roy Race of architectural history, is providing the factual rabonas in Majesty and Mortar: Britain's Great Palaces over on BBC4. Which, presuming they got on the first flight out of Belo Horizonte, England's players will have got home in time to watch.

Now, if only there were some way to connect the hubris and vanity of Charles I and his unyielding belief in his own godly, unchallenged, deserved genius and success and English football... I'll leave that to Hugh McIlvanney, but in the mean time, Cruickshank learned me some mid-millennial art history.

After last week's opening episode of this wildly interesting series, Cruickshank alighted at the end of the Tudor period with Elizabeth I's death and the beginning of the reign of James I and then his son Charles I.

As Cruickshank entered Inigo Jones's Banqueting House – built for James – on Whitehall, he was awed. This was, he purred, a "revolution in stone". And, as it rose over London, its people marvelled at a structure "alien in design, towering above the older brick and timber structures as if from another world". Jones's classicism was a giant piece of stone public relations, expressing, Cruickshank reckoned, "the unity, the harmony, the authority of the monarchy." Now, they say hindsight is 20/20, but you can guess where this kind of divine hubris might lead.

So when James carked it in 1625 and his son Charles took over, he employed his pal Rubens to paint a triptych of images on the ceiling of Banqueting House depicting James I as a wondrous godly figure, just like himself. And no meddling Parliament was going to get in his way when it came to going further and building a giant new Whitehall Palace. Alas...

Cruikshank's description of Charles having his head lumped off was brilliant. Standing on the spot where it happened, he told the tale with the malice of a man spooking his grandkids with a particularly gory ghost story. We even got a macabre chopping effect when we got to the, er, crunch.

As you'd hope, Cruickshank's monologue was stuffed with things you (well, I, at least) didn't know: Hampton Court is actually a cut'n'shunt of a Tudor building and a Stewart one (obvious, really); Christopher Wren proposed a grid system for London after the Great Fire but it was overtaken by the city's rapid rebuilding in its old topography; and William III had a giant bed at Hampton Court he didn't even sleep in.

Cruickshank is the best of hosts for this kind of thing. His expertise, combined with a gift for delivering historical tittle-tattle, makes him a whisperingly ebullient tour guide. And he doesn't even bite people. Tune in next week.

Majesty and Mortar: Britain's Great Palaces

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Finding Vivian Maier - Official Movie Trailer

Vivian Dorothea Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009)

Vivian Dorothea Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009) was an American street photographer, who was born in New York City and spent much of her childhood in France. After returning to the United States, she worked for approximately forty years as a nanny in Chicago, Illinois. During those years, she took more than 150,000 photographs, primarily of people and architecture of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, although she traveled and photographed worldwide.

Maier's photographs remained unknown, and many of her films remained undeveloped, until her boxes of possessions were auctioned off. A Chicago historian and collector, John Maloof, examined the images and started to post Maier's photographs on the web in 2009, after Maier's death, Critical acclaim and interest in Maier's work quickly followed. Maier's photographs have been exhibited in the USA, Europe and Asia and have been featured in many articles throughout the world. Her life and work have been the subject of both books and documentary films

In 2007, two years before she died, Maier failed to keep up payments on storage space she had rented on Chicago's North Side. As a result, her negatives, prints, audio recordings, and 8mm film, were auctioned. Three photo collectors purchased parts of her work: John Maloof, Ron Slattery, and Randy Prow. Maier's photographs were first published on the Internet in July 2008 by Slattery, but the work received little response.

Maloof had purchased the largest part of Maier's work, about 30,000 negatives, because he was working on a history book about the Chicago neighborhood of Portage Park, Maloof subsequently purchased more of Maier's photographs from another buyer at the same auction. Maloof discovered Maier's name in his boxes, but was unable to find out anything about her until a Google search led him to Maier's death notice in the Chicago Tribune in April 2009. In October 2009, Maloof linked his blog to a selection of Maier's photographs on Flickr, and the results went "viral", with thousands of people expressing interest.

In the spring of 2010, Chicago art collector Jeffrey Goldstein acquired a portion of the Maier collection from Prow, one of the original buyers. Since Goldstein's original purchase, his collection has grown to include 17,500 negatives, 2,000 prints, 30 homemade movies, and numerous slides. Maloof, who runs the Maloof Collection, now owns 100,000 to 150,000 negatives, more than 3,000 vintage prints, hundreds of rolls of film, home movies, audio tape interviews, and ephemera including cameras and paperwork, which he claims represents roughly 90 per cent of her known work.

Since her posthumous discovery, Maier's photographs, and the way they were discovered, have received international attention in mainstream media, and her work has featured in gallery exhibitions, several books, and two documentary films.

Many details of Maier's life remain unknown. She was born in New York City, the daughter of a French mother, Maria Jaussaud, and an Austrian father, Charles Maier. Several times during her childhood she moved between the U.S. and France, living with her mother in the Alpine village of Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur near her mother's relations. Her father seems to have left the family temporarily for unknown reasons by 1930. In the 1930 census, the head of the household was listed Jeanne Bertrand, a successful photographer who knew Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In 1935, Vivian and her mother, Maria, were living in Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur and prior to 1940 returned to New York. Her father and brother Charles stayed in New York. The family of Charles, Maria, Vivian and Charles were living in New York in 1940, where her father worked as a steam engineer.

In 1951, aged 25, Maier moved from France to New York, NY, where she worked in a sweatshop. She moved to the Chicago area's North Shore in 1956, where for approximately 40 years, Maier worked on and off as a nanny. For her first 17 years in Chicago, Maier worked for two families: the Gensburgs from 1956 to 1972, and the Raymonds from 1967 to 1973. Lane Gensburg later said of Maier, "She was like a real, live Mary Poppins," and said she never talked down to kids and was determined to show them the world outside their affluent suburb. The families that employed her described her as very private and reported that she spent her days off walking the streets of Chicago and taking photographs, usually with a Rolleiflex camera.

John Maloof, curator of some of Maier's photographs, summarizes the way the children she nannied would later describe her:

She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved. ... She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn't show anyone.

In 1959 and 1960, Maier took a trip around the world on her own, photographing Los Angeles, Manila, Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing, India, Syria, Egypt and Italy. The trip was probably financed by the sale of a family farm in Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur. For a brief period in the 1970s, Maier worked as a nanny for Phil Donahue's children. She kept her belongings at her employers; at one, she had 200 boxes of materials. Most were photographs or negatives, but Maier also collected newspapers, and sometimes recorded audiotapes of conversations she had with people she photographed.

The Gensburg brothers, whom Maier had looked after as children, tried to help her as she became poorer in old age. When Maier was about to be evicted from a cheap apartment in the suburb of Cicero, the Gensburg brothers arranged for Maier to live in a better apartment on Sheridan Road, North Chicago. In November 2008, Maier fell on the ice and hit her head. She was take to hospital but failed to recover. In January 2009, Maier was transported to a nursing home in Highland Park, where she died on April 21, 2009.

Vivian Maier: mysterious and eccentric nanny who took stunning photographs
Documentary out this week tells remarkable story of Maier and the photographs she shot – and then deliberately kept secret
Mark Brown, arts correspondent

Vivian Maier was a mysterious and eccentric nanny who spent a lifetime looking after other people's children while harbouring a rather lovely secret: she was an astonishingly accomplished photographer.

The Guardian newspaper on Tuesday publishes rarely seen photographs by a woman now considered one of the finest street photographers of the 20th century.

A documentary film released on Friday will tell the remarkable story of Maier and the photographs she took – and then deliberately kept secret.

Maier is today considered a genius whose photographs stand comparison with names such as Diane Arbus and Robert Frank.

But if it had not been for a chance discovery at a Chicago thrift auction in 2007, the world would still be unaware of her life and talents.

The discovery was made by a young former estate agent called John Maloof who was writing a history book on his Chicago neighbourhood.

He said: "I was wondering how I would find enough old photos to illustrate the book and tried my luck at a local junk and furniture auction house."

Maloof bought a box packed with about 30,000 negatives, which he did not use in the end.

"However, I knew to keep them. I thought: 'I'm resourceful. I'll look at them later when I have more time. Fast forward two years later, that purchase had unearthed some of the finest street photography of the 20th century."

Maloof set about finding out who Maier was, and decided also to make a film documenting his discoveries.

"My obsession drove us to compile a library of interviews and strange stories from across the globe. We found roughly 100 people who had contact with Vivian Maier. In the film we let people speak for themselves.

"I hope that this story comes through honest and pure, and does more than just uncover a mysterious artist but tells a story that changed the history of photography."

Maloof has made the film with Charlie Siskel, who produced Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine. The executive producer is Jeff Garlin, who has many credits but will be forever famous as Larry David's agent in eight seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Maier's day job for 40 years was as a nanny working for families in Chicago, often taking her charges out with her when she was taking photographs.

Because she had no permanent home, she kept all her negatives in a Chicago storage facility. She died in 2009, too early to know about the high regard she is held in today.

Siskel acknowledged that "if Vivian Maier had her choice the world would know nothing of her life and photographs. She chose to conceal herself and her art during her lifetime.

"But hiding one's art is, of course, the opposite of destroying it. Maier preserved her work and left its fate to others."

Since the discovery of Maier's talents she has become a phenomenon, with galleries selling her prints for upwards of $2,000 (£1,200).

There have been books, exhibitions and a BBC Imagine documentary which called her "a poet of suburbia" and a "Mary Poppins with a camera".

Siskel said Maier was "a kind of spy" capturing street life and "recording humanity as it appeared, wherever it appeared – in stockyards, slums and suburbia itself".

But she was also an outsider and Siskel believed she "may have secretly longed for the family bonds she witnessed intimately for decades".

He added: "Her work is now part of the history of photography and an undeniable treasure. The discovery of Maier's work not only gave her story an ending, there would be no story without it."

Finding Vivian Maier is released on Friday 18 July.