ArtHouse Reviews: Finding Vivian Maier

By ArtHouse Crouch End, 20 Jul 2014

vivian maier

This award winning documentary tries to unravel the truth about an extraordinary American woman who for five decades kept her unique gift for photography hidden from the world. Working as a nanny in New York and Chicago, Vivian Maier, with children in tow and her Rolleiflex camera around her neck, set out to take pictures of the life and characters of the streets around her.

Her talent may have remained undiscovered if someone with an interest in photography hadn’t bought an anonymous box of negatives at an auction in 2007. John Maloof uncovered a stash of over 100,000 undeveloped photos, as well as home movies and audio recordings which provided unique insights into life on the streets of Chicago and New York in the second half of the twentieth century.

The documentary follows Maloof as he tries to reconstruct the mysterious life of the person behind the photos by printing out hundreds of negatives, sorting through dozens of boxes of her belongings, and by interviewing those knew her, or thought they knew her. Her employers, the children she cared for and people who got to know the old lady who sat alone on park benches for hours on end, many themselves fascinating and eccentric characters, told contradictory stories, and were astonished to hear about her hidden photographic collection.

Why did she hide her photographs? Would she be happy now she is recognised by the art world as a serious and exceptional talent? Or for her life to be the subject of a film? Ultimately John Maloof, an obsessive curator of her work who co-directed the film with Charlie Siskel, is unable to answer the questions, which makes the film all the more fascinating.

“Absorbing, touching and satisfyingly enjoyable.”

New York Times

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