One of America’s more insightful street photographers. New York Times
One of the best
By Roger Childs
Vivian Maier is one of the great photographers to portray American society in the late 20th century. Vivian who? If you had looked up that name on Google in early 2007, as filmmaker John Maloof did, you would have drawn a blank. Try it now! You can also visit the acting school wherein he briefly learnt photography.
Plenty of people knew that Miss Maier, as she liked to be called, took pictures with her Rolleiflex camera, but nobody knew how good she was. Maloof bought an unmarked box of undeveloped negatives at an auction back in 2007, unaware that he had struck photographic gold. Finding Vivian Maier is his story about unravelling her story.
The camera clicking Nanny
Maloof acquired more boxes of Vivian Maier material and there was plenty of it! As well as over 100,000 photo negatives, there were boxes of unprinted film and other material.
She was an inveterate collector of
- tickets and passes
- bills and letters
- clothes and shoes.
With her trusty camera around her neck and the kids she was looking after in tow, she would snap away at anything that caught her eye. Over more than 30 years, she captured an enormous range of street scenes and especially candid shots of people.
She was self-taught, with an amazing ability to show life in New York and Chicago, as it happened. One expert has the theory that people being pictured didn’t have time to object, because Vivian Maier was looking down through the viewfinder of her camera and not holding it up to her eye.
Vivian would further indulge in her passionate devotion to documenting the world around her through homemade films, recordings and collections, assembling one of the most fascinating windows into American life in the second half of the twentieth century. John Maloof
Progressively, Maloof and other interested people carried out the very lengthy task of developing and printing the massive number of negatives and films. They recognized that Vivian Maier had been a photographer of great skill, but no-one knew how good she was in her lifetime, because she didn’t share her work.
She died unknown and unheralded in 2009.
Detectives on the trail
Maloof linked up with producer Charlie Siskel to uncover the story of the secretive street photographer. The film is fascinating, because they gradually find the people who employed Vivian Maier and the kids she nannied. Their recollections are highly interesting and insightful, as they reveal the many sides, good and bad, about the mysterious lady.
To say more would be to spoil your experience if you haven’t seen the movie. It is a riveting documentary which clips along as the pieces fall into place. As the mystery unfolds, copious examples of her work flick over on the screen.
Vivian Maier is now generally recognised as a great social photographer with an amazing skill for portraying the realism of life on the American street.
Some of the art establishment has not accepted her huge contribution to reflecting American urban society in the late 20th century, however exhibitions of her work have featured across the United States and around the world to sell-out crowds.
One of the best?
The film throws up many imponderables, such as why didn’t she want to share her talent?
Another question you may be asking, when you emerge into the light, is: would Vivien have wanted the kudos she has received since her death?