Vivian Maier is one of the most mysterious figures in street photography. A woman with obvious skill and a unique eye for the small absurdities of life that seemingly made no attempt to get her vast body of work, totaling some 100,000 images, published.
If not for a chance purchase of negatives by John Maloof, her work may have been thrown in a landfill and remained totally unknown.
‘Finding Vivian Maier’ tells you the whole fascinating story. Maier spent her life working as a nanny in America and used the comparative freedom this gave her to take photographs. Obsessively. People who knew her from that time, never remember her without a camera around her neck.
As photographer Joel Meyerowitz remarks in the film there is something about street photographers in that they are comfortable being surrounded by people and show tremendous empathy towards them and at the same time they are strangely separate and removed from everyone.
Maier proved to be the living embodiment of this. While her work shows compassion in real life she closed herself off from those around her, living in rooms that were locked away from prying eyes.
She could be cruel to the children under her care too, once force feeding a child who wouldn’t finish her lunch and on another occasion abandoning two children on the city streets to teach them a lesson.
Indeed there was a darkness to her life that can witnessed in some of her work, leading to speculation that something may have happened to her as a child that led her to be very scared of men.
In the end we are never really going to know the truth of her life but we can see the truth of her work. A brilliant and original documentation of what it meant to be a live in the middle of the twentieth century.