After a six-month delay due to COVID-19, Saskatchewan’s poet laureate is finally presenting his latest work to a Vancouver Island audience.
Bruce Rice was supposed to read from his new book of poetry, The Vivian Poems: Street Photographer Vivian Maier, at the Nanaimo Harbourfront Library in April, but by then all Vancouver Island Regional Library branches were closed in response to COVID-19. That reading will instead take place on Oct. 27, when VIRL hosts Rice via the online videoconferencing platform Zoom.
Rice’s book examines the life and work of Vivian Maier, a prolific Chicago street photographer whose work was discovered after the contents of her abandoned storage lockers were bought at auction in 2007. Two years later, shortly after her death in a nursing home at 83, her photographs, many depicting urban scenes from the ’50s and ’60s, gained popularity and acclaim after being posted online.
“She passed away and within two or three years the individual prints were selling for over $5,000 and basically [she] saw nothing of it,” Rice said. “So partly there’s this tragic aspect to the story, but on the other hand you have this massive work that is really quite moving and quite important because she was documenting the times when the American dream was going through a whole change.”
When he heard about Maier and her story Rice said he was “immediately drawn in.” He said he appreciated that unlike other street photographers like Dorothea Lange, whose famous Depression-era photographs were commissioned by the U.S. government, Maier was capturing ordinary life “without necessarily an agenda.”
“A lot of what she was doing was actually documenting her daily life as she was photographing,” Rice said. “So it wasn’t quite the same as sending a photographer out there to photograph ‘the other,’ if you want to put it that way, but you get the sense she’s actually documenting her own life.”
Rice often writes from the perspectives of characters, and in The Vivian Poems he imagines Maier’s thoughts about her art practice as she left very little commentary on her own work. Because Maier worked for 40 years as a nanny and kept her photographs to herself, Rice said a lot of attention is paid to the “mythology” around her and in his book Maier challenges some of those assumptions as well. He said he’s more interested in “the character of the artist.”
“Let’s put the story aside. Let’s talk about the art and what that tells us and, actually, I believe that it tells us a lot about her…” Rice said “As I say in the introduction, she might even be offended by my book but I’ve done as much as I can to really pay attention to the art itself. The whole book is about her taking us into the art from the perspective of an artist.”
WHAT’S ON … Bruce Rice Zoom reading and discussion takes place Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. The meeting link is https://virl.zoom.us/j/8026322551, the meeting ID is 802 632 2551.