It’s not a stretch to say that true beauty is a rare commodity. If one holds an innate ability to capture the essence of humanity through a camera shutter, you’d think they share their vision with world in a heartbeat. Then there are people like Vivian Maier. Now dubbed the greatest street photographer by many, Maier’s work was unknown to all (even herself, in ways) until early this millennium.
In 2007, John Maloof was working on a book chronicling the history of sections within Chicago, Il. Needing some fresh, unknown perspectives of the time period he was focused on, he visited an auction at a storage warehouse where defaulted units were being unloaded. Maloof was one of three people at the time to purchase nearly 30,000 negatives of mainly undeveloped film, hoping at least one or two were usable for his book. As he processed the photographs, it became clear he was looking at something special, but who was the person behind the camera? Why there were so many pictures just left sitting in artistic limbo? Using the tiniest puzzle pieces from the photographs he gathered and some audio recordings that came in the suitcases full of film, John Maloof found his artist, Vivian Maier.
Moving from France to New York in 1951, Vivian Maier spent her life employed as a nanny for well-to-do families, including at one point looking after the children of Phil Donahue (yes, that Phil Donahue). While her employers were at work, Vivian would take their children on day trips around the cities they surrounded as she unassumingly snapped photographs of anyone and everyone she passed. Experts suspect she would snap away at people who didn’t even realize they were the focus of her frame, leaving their vulnerabilities free to engorge each corner of the negative.
Finding Vivian Maier is an extraordinary trip for the visual senses. You can now see Vivian’s work in books and galleries, the shots intertwined with the mystery of a woman who was seemingly afraid to unleash her vision on the world, fearing it was not good enough. By the time her work made it to the main stage, Vivian had been lost. Some of the broad assumptions made by Maloof as to Vivian’s ultimate plans for her work seem a little too self-involved; almost as if he needed to validate his involvement in the exposure of her work by proving she really wanted the world to see what she saw. Nonetheless, Finding Vivian Maier is so engrossing, fascinating and beautiful, it is a must see.
Now available on such services as Amazon instant video, make sure you reach out and watch one of this year’s Academy Award Nominees for Best Documentary as soon as you can; you won’t regret it.