April 10, 2017 Sue Mowrer


“Mysterious.”  “Private.”  “Eccentric.”

“Finding Vivian Maier”, is a fascinating documentary that is also  a sort of detective story. You may not have ever heard of Vivian Maier, which wouldn’t be surprising, because none of her photographs were displayed to the public until after her death. She was the embodiment of the expression “A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

It wasn’t until 2007, when John Maloof, working on a historical book about his neighborhood, bought the contents to a storage locker Chicago. He found boxes and boxes of negatives, and once he developed some of the negatives, he quickly knew he had found something rare, the work of an artist.

Today, there are thousands upon thousands of Instagram, Facebook and selfie photos posted every day. Some of these images are great, a personal digital snapshot of a moment in someone’s life.  But they’re also almost always staged and posed, and there’s rarely an aesthetic sense behind them.

The photographs taken by Vivian Maier are just the opposite – candid photographs from her singular, specific point of view. She took thousands and thousands of photos in her lifetime, but never published or shared them with anyone. Why?

That’s the mystery Maloof set out to solve.  Vivian was an intensely private woman who worked as a nanny and maid for various families in the 50’, 60’s through the 90’s in NYC and Chicago (including a year working for Phil Donahue).

The one thing that everyone remembers is that Vivian always, always had a camera around her neck.  She insisted on having a padlock for her private quarters and no one was allowed to go in.

The images she captured show a unique perspective at how she saw the world.  Her work shows a gift for capturing people at their most natural. It’s as if her camera has a presence all its own, creating an intimate relationship with her subjects.

The photos are so striking because she had a very particular point of view that somehow brings the viewer into the moments her camera captured, mostly people on the street – sometimes looking straight back at her, knowing they were being photographed but not posing.

In October 2009, Maloof linked his blog to a selection of Maier’s photographs on the image-sharing website Flickr, and the results went “viral,” with thousands of people expressing interest.

Celebrated photographer Mary Ellen Mark said her work showed “a sense of humor, a sense of tragedy and a beautiful sense of light”.

Turned down by museums, ultimately, a traveling exhibit was mounted called “Discovering Vivian Maier,” drawing huge crowds in London, NY, Chicago and around the world. Since the first exhibit in 2012, there have been many others staged around the world.

The film shows dozens of her photographs that are now universally regarded as ranking alongside the best of street photographers  such as Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank, considered the fathers of candid reportage.

If you’re at all interested in photography, you’ll enjoy “Finding Vivian Maier” as a­­ fascinating look at a woman who had a huge gift for photography, a strong sense of herself, a true original who kept almost all of her work private.

“Finding Vivian Maier”, 2013, directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel  (available on iTunes, Amazon Video,  You Tube, Google Play Movies & TV) 





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