Solving the Mystery of Vivian Maier’s Photo Captions

The Photo Blog
Oct. 2 2012 2:40 PM

Solving the Mystery of Vivian Maier’s Photo Captions

In my opening Behold post on Monday, I included the image below, with the following caption, taken directly from Richar Cahan and Michael Williams’ book, Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows:

Caption: Woman taunts a police officer before the start of the Democratic Conventionat the International ampitheater Chicago in 1968. 

Many of you had questions in the comments section about where this caption came from.  How did we know the woman was taunting the police offer not simply talking to or flirting with him?

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From the comments section:

NNevada: Interesting. That last photo says the woman is taunting the police officer. How do we know that? All the other captions indicate time/place, which I assume are determined by either visual confirmation or labelling of the rolls. No other caption provides any sort of value analysis or qualification of the subjects. Why this one?
p.r.: The interaction in the last photo doesn't exactly look like taunting to me.

I went back to Williams and asked him for clarification about his captions. This was his answer:

“Every image in Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows was researched to determine the date and place taken. In some cases it was easy, because Ms. Maier left behind handwritten notes or dates on the sleeves in which they were stored. But for many images it was difficult, and we needed to look for clues in each picture. We scanned images hi-res and enlarged them enormously looking for newspaper headlines, movie theater marquees and license plates---anything that could be helpful.

The picture in question here, of a woman taunting a police officer, was one of the easier ones to figure out. It was taken in Chicago around the 1968 Democratic National Convention. There were many skirmishes between the police and protesters, and Ms. Maier photographed some of these during the convention. In this case, other images on the film roll identify this location as just outside the International Amphitheater on the city's South Side, where police and onlookers had gathered, and some, like this woman, were provoking the police. Mystery solved.

In the back of our book we included a photo index of every picture, and I am proud to say we identified every location and just about every date.”

In other words, the word taunt came from the authors, but was based on their research. Hopefully that solves everyone’s questions.

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