Vivian Maier’s Portfolio Faces Uncertain Future As Her Estate Enters Complicated Legal Battle

Sep 6, 2014

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

Vivian Maier’s Portfolio Faces Uncertain Future As Her Estate Enters Complicated Legal Battle

Sep 6, 2014

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

Join the Discussion

Share on:

Vivian Maier...A Life Uncovered by Thomas Leuthard
Vivian Maier…A Life Uncovered by Thomas Leuthard

A state public administrator’s office in Chicago, Illinois has issued letters to several individuals in possession of Vivian Maier photographs and negatives, informing them of possible lawsuits they could be facing over any money they earned from selling Maier’s work. Among the recipients of the letter were several galleries and John Maloof, an individual who owns a lionshare of original Maier works with a collection of negatives in the tens of thousands, which he bought for $400.

When Maloof acquired the negatives in 2007, he hired a genealogist to help track down any heirs of the mysterious photographer. He was able to locate Sylvain Jaussaud, whom was considered by experts to be Maeir’s closest living heir as a first cousin once removed. Maloof and Jaussaud reached an undisclosed agreement in which Maloof would assume the rights to the negatives. Maloof then filed an application to register his copyright, which is currently still pending one year after being filed.

As Maiers work began receiving widespread attention, David C Deal, a former photographer turned lawyer, took a special interest in the fascinating case that is the life and work of Maier. He became upset that people of no relation to Maier were profiting from her artistic works and set out on a personal mission of his own to track down additional living relatives of Maiers. His search led him to a small town in southern France at the home of Francis Baille, a man who genealogists hired by Deal say is also a first cousin once removed. Baille was entirely unaware of his relation to Maier, but agreed to seek legal heirship under American law after speaking with Deal.

http://vimeo.com/96716006

Maloof stated he had also uncovered Baille in his search for living heirs, but was told by his legal panel and geneologists that he was not closer in relation to Maier than Jaussaud. Maloof was quoted by the NY Times saying:

“I’ve been obsessed since the beginning with trying to find out who Vivian Maier was and whether she had heirs. I was always trying to do what was as legally and ethically aboveboard as possible. It’s kind of sad. I have a very emotional attachment to her work and I’m very protective of it. And I’ve never let anything happen to it that’s not been of the highest quality.”

After the extensive amounts of time, money, and resources he has put into curating Maiers work, preserving them, and even helping to direct the popular film “Finding Vivian Maier“, Maloof also shared that until this year, he hadn’t earned any income on the images.

The case, which was brought on by Baille’s legal pursuit of becoming an official heir to the Maier estate has essentially forced Maloof and others who sell Maiers work to cease doing so until a decision is made, which can sometimes take several years in especially complicated cases such as this one according to Joanne Zlotek, a general counsel from the administration office that issued the letters. She also made note that the letters were just cautionary notices of what could happen and to make it known that an estate has been created for Maier.

In the meantime, galleries have pulled Maiers work until they are otherwise informed by their lawyers.

If you are curious as to what Deal’s stake is in the case for representing and working with Baille, he had this to say in the NY Times:

“I’ve dramatically reduced the going rate for defending my client and I’ve put a lot of my own money into this. If I came out on the other end of this issue breaking even, I would take it, because I think it’s likely to be the most interesting thing I’m ever going to work on in my legal career.”

Copyright law cases have been sweeping the headlines lately and, given the popularity of Vivian Maier, this one is likely to be in the spotlight for a while. What are your thoughts on the entire thing? Do owners of original Maier negative such as Maloof have the right to sell them? Let’s get a friendly discussion going in the comments section below.

[via NYTimes | Photo by Thomas Leuthard ]

Find this interesting? Share it with your friends!

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

Join the Discussion

DIYP Comment Policy
Be nice, be on-topic, no personal information or flames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

24 responses to “Vivian Maier’s Portfolio Faces Uncertain Future As Her Estate Enters Complicated Legal Battle”

  1. Don Dassinger Avatar
    Don Dassinger

    (Art, creativity, opportunity, – meets profit – legal – heirship…) Good article by Tiffany Mueller: A state public administrator’s office in Chicago, Illinois has issued letters to several individuals in possession of Vivian Maier photographs and negatives, informing them of possible lawsuits they could be facing over any money they earned from selling Maier’s work. Among the recipients of the letter were several galleries and John Maloof, an individual who owns a lion-share of original Maier works with a collection of negatives in the tens of thousands, which he bought for $400.

    When Maloof acquired the negatives in 2007, he hired a genealogist to help track down any heirs of the mysterious photographer. He was able to locate Sylvain Jaussaud, whom was considered by experts to be Maeirs closest living heir as a first cousin once removed. Maloof and Jaussaud reached an undisclosed agreement in which Maloof would assume the rights to the negatives. Maloof then filed an application to register his copyright, which is currently still pending one year after being filed.

    As Maiers work began receiving widespread attention, David C Deal, a former photographer turned lawyer, took a special interest in the fascinating case that is the life and work of Maier. He became upset that people of no relation to Maier were profiting from her artistic works and set out on a personal mission of his own to track down additional living relatives of Maiers. His search led him to a small town in southern France at the home of Francis Baille, a man who genealogists hired by Deal say is also a first cousin once removed. Baille was entirely unaware of his relation to Maier, but agreed to seek legal heirship… After the extensive amounts of time, money, and resources he has put into curating Maiers work, preserving them, and even helping to direct the popular film “Finding Vivian Maier“, Maloof also shared that until this year, he hadn’t earned any income on the images.

    The case, which was brought on by Baille’s legal pursuit of becoming an official heir to the Maier estate has essentially forced Maloof and others who sell Maiers work to cease doing so until a decision is made, which can sometimes take several years in especially complicated cases such as this one according to Joanne Zlotek, a general counsel from the administration office that issued the letters. She also made note that the letters were just cautionary notices of what could happen and to make it known that an estate has been created for Maier.

    In the meantime, galleries have pulled Maiers’ work until they are otherwise informed by their lawyers.

    If you are curious as to what Deal’s stake is in the case for representing and working with Baille, he had this to say in the NY Times: “I’ve dramatically reduced the going rate for defending my client and I’ve put a lot of my own money into this. If I came out on the other end of this issue breaking even, I would take it, because I think it’s likely to be the most interesting thing I’m ever going to work on in my legal career.”

  2. Albert Zablit Avatar
    Albert Zablit

    “He became upset that people of no relation to Maier were profiting from her artistic works”

    Serious question, but where exactly lies the problem, if a problem actually exists?
    From what I’m understanding, she has no clear heir other than a man who didn’t even knew of his relation to her before this lawyer took interest. How exactly is the latter benefiting the cause? What is the cause here again?

    1. Tiffany Mueller Avatar
      Tiffany Mueller

      I think that’s the issue a lot of people are taking. Deal says he is essentially doing it because he claims the case is the most interesting case he is ever likely to come across in his career as a lawyer and also out of respect of Maier and her family members, but many folks are not so convinced that is the case. When the NY Times asked him specifically if he was getting a kickback of some sort from Bailler, he replied with this quote (which is also in the article above):

      “I’ve dramatically reduced the going rate for defending my client and I’ve put a lot of my own money into this. If I came out on the other end of this issue breaking even, I would take it, because I think it’s likely to be the most interesting thing I’m ever going to work on in my legal career.”

      It is hard to say whether or not Deals motivation is genuine or not, but I suspect this matter will be looked into further by legal representatives of Maloof’s (and/or other owners of the negatives).

  3. John Seidel Avatar
    John Seidel

    David C. Deal sounds like the photographic version of what is known as a patent troll aka “patent assertion entity”. These are people who find a situation where money is being made or will be made who then swoop in and try to capture legal rights to everything. They possess no interest in the subject at hand until income can be made from it. Shameful.

    1. Frank Avatar
      Frank

      “photographer-turned-LAWYER” told me all I needed to know about this case

      1. Ralph Hightower Avatar
        Ralph Hightower

        Yea, I know of a few photographers that were lawyers in their earlier life.

  4. Gégé Avatar
    Gégé

    Vivian Maier is a marketing joke.
    Ok theres’ some nice pictures, but i think 95% of photographers would find 100 or 200 good pictures if they shot 150 or 200.000 like her… especially with film, when you did not took 10 pics of the same subject.
    Another thing is a problem for me (i saw the exhibition) : there’s a lot of post production work on some of the images, i think this is a problem when it’s not done by the photographer… post prod is a part of the creative process

    1. Tiffany Mueller Avatar
      Tiffany Mueller

      Interesting, didn’t know that about the post processing. That’s not cool.

    2. Spoonie Avatar
      Spoonie

      Considering a lot of professional photographers have assistants who do the majority of the post processing work, what’s the issue?

      And since when was a “keeper rate” a judgement on how good your work is?

    3. Martin Avatar
      Martin

      What are you basing your opinion on that a lot of post processing has been done?

      1. Gégé Avatar
        Gégé

        ANYONE with a bit of photoshop skills who saw the “Maier” work can see this. And it’s even more obvious on architecture and portraits pictures.

    4. Orie Rutchick Avatar
      Orie Rutchick

      You are so ignorant and ill informed to comment. There are tens of thousands of great photographs among those “150-200,000 negatives, maybe more. What you have seen has just scratched the surface of her body of work. And 95% of the photographers you know should only be so talented to even take one great photo like the thousands Maier took.

      We own a collectiion of 48 of Maier’s prints which are on exhibit, and will remain on exhibit, despite Deal’s claim.

      Next time get your facts straight. Post production on a gelatin silver print? Really?

      ” About the Limited Edition Prints”
      Our printing approach is based on the aesthetics and technologies of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, when the images were taken. The exhibition art prints incorporate
      fiber-based paper with selenium toning process to create archival-quality prints at museum standards. Staying true to the sensibilities of the times, the prints feature high contrasts, rich shadows, strong blacks and bright highlights. The 12”x12” image size and small limited edition runs also adhere to the standards of the era. Each silver gelatin print is a hands-on creation. No two prints of the same image are identical.

      Master printer Ron Gordon has been at the forefront of photographic excellence in Chicago for the past forty years. He has printed for some of Chicago’s eminent photographers at his own photo lab. He and colleague Sandra Steinbrecher are experienced in both film and digital photography, and have collaborated for more
      than twenty years. They work in partnership on the execution of every Maier image, and sign the back of each print.

      SPECIFICATIONS:
      Paper size: 16” x 20”; Image size(s): Square format 12”x12”
      Printed by: Ron Gordon and Sandra Steinbrecher of Chicago, IL USA
      Printing process: Silver gelatin on Ilford-double weight glossy paper; selenium toned, air-dried in limited editions of 15 with two printers proofs
      Documentation: Prints come with complete documentation

      1. Gégé Avatar
        Gégé

        Post prod can be made on every support, film or digital. Not the same technique, more work on film of course but…
        When i saw the exhibition it was obvious that they were big differences depending of the series, portraits and architecture pictures are so different from the rest.

        Regarding Maier’s work : i know a lot of better photographers and i don’t like her work from an artistic point of view. I can’t find any style. She is like a Depardon (i just do not like his work too) than a Maplethorne if you see what i mean.

        To me this is only business and marketing, not art, but everyone is free to think i’m wrong.

      2. thebeline Avatar
        thebeline

        Please do humanity a favor and refrain from calling people ignorant on the internet. It is… well, much in the same… It is combative, and incitatory. It does not add anything to the conversation and only serves to make people feel insulted, not educated.

        If you have something to add, or if you have information that will make someone more educated on a matter, please feel free to contribute and enlighten us. But starting off by insulting people is not constructive to conversations or getting your point across to people.

        That reaction, sir, is what is wrong with the internet.

        Congratulations, you have contributed nothing to the world today.

        1. Orie Rutchick Avatar
          Orie Rutchick

          My apologies to those reading my comments on the internet. This is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to comment on a comment on any message board. I didn’t realize there was a protocol.

          One last thing. The only “post production” on these gelatin silver prints is selenium toning to further preserve the print and a day of retouching the spots and scratches from the 60 year old negatives. I have witnessed the whole process when I visited Chicago.

          Unfortunately the exhibit you saw, was made up of digital prints, which was a mistake. But in fact, if you visited our gallery you would see 45 beautifully executed darkroom, gelatin silver prints that digital prints can’t touch. There is a look and feel the real silver prints have, and that’s what should have been exhibited, and those who have a stake in the preservation and enhancement of the estate apologize.

          This is possibly my last post ever, as “misinformed” seems to be the politically correct term for ignorance and unfortunately to this messaging process, it is what I meant. If you want to see what I’m talking about you’re all more then welcomed to visit VivianMpls.com and the Vivian Maier Minneapolis gallery when you’re in the city and learn more about our collection and see an exhibit of 45 of the most beautifully executed darkroom prints.

          1. Tiffany Mueller Avatar
            Tiffany Mueller

            Thanks for sharing the link, @orierutchick:disqus , great images! Out of curiosity, did your gallery receive one of the letters mentioned at the beginning of the article from the state public administrator’s office? Was wondering how many of them were actually handed out…

          2. Orie Rutchick Avatar
            Orie Rutchick

            Yes, we did receive a letter from the Cook County appointed law firm informing us that this was going to happen. This isn’t Deal, or his firm. It’s a high power law firm that’s working for Cook County on establishing the breadth of the estate and finding the rightful heirs, even if they are other then the one both Maloof and Goldstein reached an agreement with. If Beal is the rightful heir, then a deal will be struck, as before, but now Deal will have his share of the estate. It’s so self serving, because all of us who have worked to bring this to the public and add value to the estate are now portrayed as the greedy villians, when in fact Deal is the villian stealing the opportunity for people to see her work, read books, see movies, and learn more. He essentially created a black hole.

          3. Tiffany Mueller Avatar
            Tiffany Mueller

            Black hole, indeed. Quite sad, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing your take on it with us, Orie. Nice to hear from some involved in the matter as intimately as you are. :)

          4. Orie Rutchick Avatar
            Orie Rutchick

            I’ll let you know when any other shoes fall.

          5. Tiffany Mueller Avatar
            Tiffany Mueller

            Thanks, @Orie! Feel free to drop me a line at
            binaurally (at) gmail (dot) com

            :)

  • Ann Shea Avatar
    Ann Shea

    “Patent Troll” doesn’t even begin to cover this person David C. Deal. Disgust pretty much sums it up as well as sorrow for John Maloof & Vivian Maier’s profound & now stalled legacy!

  • leanucci Avatar
    leanucci

    What I find most confusing about the “who is the one to curate and what’s the one way to curate” Maiers work, is that it was hidden in the first place. Maloof and others gave it value after others dismissed it. But here we are, questioning the rescuers who, to my knowledge, are not doing anything that terrible to the collection. Maybe the State of Chicago has a legal way to intervene, given its chicagoan cultural… something?

  • Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    ‘When Maloof acquired the negatives in 2007, he hired a genealogist to help track down any heirs of the mysterious photographer’

    if this statement is accurate, Maier was still alive in 2007. why didn’t Maloof contact her?

  • Titus Avatar
    Titus

    David C. Deal is a money grubbing asshat. He’s the reason people hate lawyers. His name alone says it all. He smelled money and is demonstrating what a whore he is.