Review: Finding Vivian Maier

Saturday night, I went to see the documentary Finding Vivian Maier. I was enchanted with this recently discovered artist. The documentary covers her accidental discovery by John Maloof only a few years ago, her prolific work, and her fascinating, mysterious, and troubled life.

For those of you who haven’t heard about the story of Vivian Maier, this is the short version. John Maloof bought some boxes of negatives at auction and discovered that the photos were really impressive. All he knew about the photographer was that her name was Vivian Maier. He goes out to find out more about this photographer and finds out that she worked as a nanny for various families. She took 100,000 of photos but never really showed them to anyone. No one really knew how good her work was until the negatives were discovered after her death.

The documentary interviews many of her former charges as a nanny and other people she encountered over the years. A lot of her former charges talked about how she always had a camera and their often annoyance at her constant picture-taking. But they also talked about how she was a difficult woman with a dark side. She also appeared to have become a hoarder late in life too.

Her photographs are really impressive. Many of the photos are from Chicago but she also worked in NY and MN. She also took a trip around the world. She has this incredible eye for people and settings. She has these amazing self-portraits, often using mirrors and shiny things. I’m not sure I can do justice to her work so you should just look at some of her photos. Through his research, John Maloof even found a box full of undeveloped film. So there are photos that Vivian Maier never even saw.

One issue that this movie raised was how to deal with someone finding an unknown deceased artist’s work. John Maloof happened upon these negatives. He’s doing an impressive job of trying to get Vivian Maier the respect she deserves in the art world. However, it raises some issues. At one point, he says in the film, “I’d love to give her money but I can’t.” It was a little glib for my taste. I feel that he has done a tremendous amount of work; he started scanning her work and blogging about it. He really worked to untangle her life and approached various museums to get her work accepted. He’s done a great deal for a woman he never knew. Moreover, he’s made sure her name is front and center. It may be called the John Maloof collection but I’m okay with that. There have been collections of incredible art known by their collector (See Barnes Foundation, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum).

However, I can’t help to think how much money he is making and how it is being used. I feel that he should definitely be compensated for his time and effort to her work. Also, she really doesn’t have family to give it to. But I feel weird about it just the same. Maybe the extra money (if there is any) will go to a trust to preserve her name in the future.

So if you can, check out this documentary on this amazing photographer. Or better yet, go see her photos in person and online. She’s really worth taking a look.

That’s all!


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