Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary film created by amateur John Maloof that is based upon the somewhat obscure and mysterious career of Nanny Vivian Maier. It was unknown that Maier had a cache of over 100,000 photographs in her collection. This has led to her posthumous reputation as one of America’s best and The New York Times regarded her as “one of America’s most insightful street photographers”. The documentary itself has won a variety of prestigious awards and been chosen as part of the official selection of Berlin and Palm Springs International film festival 2014.
Vivian Maier was born in the U.S and spent most of her childhood in France. She was a self-taught photographer and was meticulously private. She shot mostly urban life in Chicago and New York. Maier had a talent for catching the most striking monochromatic street photographs and examples of her work are shown continuously throughout the film. Themes that are popular with street photographers such as the down and out, crying children (or children with ice-cream), crime scenes and the interesting old man with a hat and a cigar is prominent within the Photographer’s work. Nonetheless, Maier’s photographs are beautiful. I absolutely adore how she captures truth and strong emotion from her subjects. Maier has a sense of humour documented within some of her photographs that include cheeky shots of women’s skirt’s flying up, dogs that provide comedy value and various other random shots. Within the situations Maier has been able to make her subjects feel at ease and capture close and personal shots that is highly commendable.
Of the various interviews throughout the film from the children she had cared for, none of them knew much about her. Truthfully, they all appeared as rather odd individuals that described Maier’s imagination, her stern demeanour and her political views. They all stated that Maier was never without her Rolleiflex Camera and guarded her possessions zealously.
John Maloof encountered Maier’s negatives at a thrift store in Chicago’s West side that led to his decision to reveal the photographer’s work to the world. This raises the question of the artist’s rights and if Maloof had the right to promote and curate Maier’s work. It was widely advertised throughout the film that Vivian was very private and showed her work to no one. Maloof questions himself continuously throughout the film and debates if he should continue to promote Maier’s work without her permission. To begin with, the photographer’s work was not even accepted or recognised by major galleries. The film documents Maloof’s struggle of raising awareness in regards to Maier’s photographs. Currently, Maloof has catalogued over 90% of Vivian’s work and is in the process of receiving recognition from major galleries across the USA.
Vivian Maier documented American street life from the 1950’s and continued for the next five decades. Maloof relates her to Henri Cartier-Bresson, which is a rather strong statement although her photographs are striking and each one is stronger than the last. The film is mediocre and does what it says on the tin (describing the life of Vivian Maier). The most important part of prying into this photographer’s life was being able to see the magic of her work on film. It is inspiring and is a must see for an aspiring photographer.