John Malooof struck lucky when he bought a box of old negatives at a furniture and antique auction. They turned out to be by a nanny called Vivian Maier and consisted of 100,000 frames from the middle of the last century depicting Chicago and her travels:

…I met with two of the people Vivian was a nanny for in the 1950’s and early 1960’s today. They gave me some information that contradicts what I heard from other sources (this source is accurate). But, all in all, she is still somewhat of a mystery, even to them.

Vivian came here from France in the early 1930’s and worked in a sweat shop in New York when she was about 11 or 12. She was not Jewish but a Catholic, or as they said, an anti-Catholic. 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 wore a men’s jacket, men’s shoes and a large hat most of the time. She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t show anyone.

There are some excellent pictures at Maloof’s site and also here. There’s quite a range, from high society and figures such as Salvador Dali through to pictures of the poor and homeless that echo the dustbowl photographers of the 30s. Now they’re in a Chicago exhibition. Lucky he didn’t just sell the box on eBay, isn’t it?