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This essay examines the extraordinary case history of Vivian Maier, a Chicago nanny unknown until after her death in 2009. Maier’s is a story of how an enormous corpus of photographs, made by an unknown photographer and never intended to be seen by anyone, can now be reconstituted and reframed as an organic “oeuvre,” and a market for them can be created from scratch. Maier’s identity as an artist has been manufactured by the owners of her work through social media, sidelining the mechanisms of museum, scholarship, and criticism and delivering her work directly to the market. While Maier’s photographs made on the street are not especially different from those of other photographers working in black and white and depicting urban life, their familiar quality, and their immediate recognition as “street photography,” combined with her “outsider” identity, elusive biography, and staggering production combine to forge an instant legend. And photography discourse and markets are ever in search of them.

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