When one thinks of New York City as captured in classic Black & White, images come to mind from Andy Warhol, Weegee, and Diane Arbus. But one such creator of monochromatic metropolitan imagery almost went unnoticed and unrecognized forever. Deep within the recesses of a storage unit in Chicago, Illinois, a man named John Maloof discovered over 100,000 film negatives, newspaper clippings, letters, and more from one Ms. Vivian Maier. Maier a French-American, grew up in both New York City and France before becoming a nanny in her adulthood, raising the children of newsmakers such as Phil Donahue. Maier’s unique worldview wasn’t limited to her photography (she utilized square compositions, harsh contrast, and close-ups), children she raised remember her as being a “a feminist, a socialist, and an excellent, caring nanny who shepherded them on trips into the city to see art films and into the countryside to explore and forage for strawberries.” While the discovery of Vivian Maier’s images is not the first major find of its kind in the world of photo history, it certainly is a landmark for images procured from a storage auction. Had the system for auctioning off storage units not been in place in Chicago, a photographic virtuoso would have gone uncelebrated for good. Maloof and another Maier collector by the name of Jeff Goldstein, own the majority of the photographers assorted works. Maier not only recorded her life in photographs, but also film and voice recordings, amassing some 200 boxes to her name before her entrance into a retirement home. How many numerous photographers never “struck it big” and await their inevitable acknowledgement and entry into the history books of the art world. The hunt is on to locate the next undiscovered Photo master, and you could be the discoverer with constant vigilance and a discerning eye at your next storage auction.
Aat Uncle Bob’s Self Storage in Pensacola, Florida, an auction winner made a grisly discovery. Inside the pungent smelling storage locker were hundreds of human organs, sitting, some for over a decade, in formaldehyde-filled containers. The organs included lungs, hearts, and brains as well as some tissue samples. Disgracefully, many of these organs were stored in disposable fountain drink cups, and were pilfered from private autopsies at local funeral homes. The mad man behind the whole wicked collection, Dr. Michael Berkland, had previously been sacked from his job due to a dispute regarding autopsy records. One has to wonder whether this was an extreme case of hoarding, or if the bad doctor had something more sinister in mind for the hundreds of organs and tissue samples he had gathered for ten years. The collection seems obsessive and methodical, but not as if Berkland cherished his enormous organ collection… he let it go to auction after all. Charges against Berkland have not yet been filed but he may go down for breaking several statutes which outline how one is to dispose of biomedical waste as well as human remains. Buyer beware at the next storage auction you visit! And maybe try not to bid on the units that smell like rotting brains!