Finding Vivian Maier (2013) - 9/10
Updated: Apr 25, 2021
I remember watching this on release and being blown away. I’d just watched Searching for Sugar Man too and was captivated by these real life hidden gems. Sugar Man is a story of redemption and long overdue reward. Vivian’s story is something else entirely. Both have mystery, but here it’s intentional, created by Vivian. So is she? 2007, John Maloof buys a box of old photo negatives in an auction. He’s never heard of Vivian Maier who took them. He wouldn’t have. Vivian was very private. What she’d make of this film god only knows. John likes the photos, scans some and sticks them on a blog. This is where we first see her work and where my jaw first hit the floor. These photos are fantastic. They capture candid moments right across the spectrum. Vivian is seems had both the eye and the ability to be in the right place at the right time. A street photographer. An amazing street photographer. But the photos are only part of this story. Vivian was a loner, no family, working as a nanny, taking photos in her spare time. John is intrigued, as I am all over again. The negatives really are only the start. Some digging unearths a lock up kept by a family she worked for. Hundreds of thousands of negatives. John bless him gets to work, organising, scanning, cataloging. I’m sure Vivian would’ve been embarrassed by his efforts, but at the same time we feel that maybe they share something. Dedication. Certainly a love of photography. Make no mistake it’s Vivian’s story, but credit to John, the spade work he’s put in to deciphering her world is remarkable. Private as a person, those who knew her describe her as unusual. Accurate perhaps, but of course they didn’t really know her. She always had a camera with her, but it seems no one ever got close enough to think anything of it. Shooting on a Rolleiflex, she was stealthy, secretive. It was important to her that she remained out of the limelight and several of the interviews here give a clear sense that they question the reasoning behind the film. The ethicacy of digging into her life. I feel for John in this respect, believing that his goal is simply sharing the art. There’s a sense that it’s a shame she didn’t show her photos. A missed opportunity. I think she loved being a nanny though, loved children, but we learn there was a dark side to Vivian’s nature. Maybe afraid, maybe wary. There’s a lot of speculation here. One things for sure, she loved taking photos more than anything. There’s movie footage and audio recordings too. Together with the photos, the interviews with people who met her, knew her and John’s pieces that give it structure. It paints a rich picture. One person says “I find the mystery more interesting than her work”. I disagree. The mystery is fun, engaging, but it’s just a vehicle for me. It’s the work that makes this so special. As a documentary it’s complete gold, the source material is that good. But the way it’s told too is wonderful, the pacing and arc of the story reveals some real magic. She didn’t fit in. Saw herself slightly removed from society, but through her lens knitted herself into its fabric. It’s a satisfying journey, respectful, a bit sad, but I don’t think Vivian was sad. Her story is interesting. A life on her terms. I hope she’s enjoying her post life success.