Thursday, April 17, 2014
Talk about a treasure hunt.
In 2007, John Maloof, a real estate agent in the Chicago area, bought some miscellaneous boxes at an estate auction across the street, hoping to find some material for a book about his neighborhood.
Disappointed not to find anything he could use for his project, Maloof had, instead, stumbled into one of the greatest discoveries in 20th Century photography—the previously unknown, but amazingly prolific work of amateur street photographer Vivian Maier.
Work that Maloof determines to expose to the light of day at last, along with the mystery shrouding the artist herself, in the fascinating doc, Finding Vivian Maier.
Intrigued at first by a stash of carefully preserved, undeveloped negatives in one of the boxes he'd bought, Maloof had only a name to go on. But when he Googled "Vivian Maier," nothing came up.
So he selected some 200 of her images to develop and posted them in a photo blog online. The response was huge.
Photography gallery owner Howard Greenberg and professional photographer Mary Ellen Mark appear in the film to testify to Maier's genius. But viewers don't need instructions to appreciate her work.
Whether her subjects are Highland Park socialites, teenagers in cars, kids at play, or winos and derelicts in inner city back alleys, Maier has a gift for gesture, expression, and composition, the telling moment, the fraught encounter. Her work with reflections—mirrors, shop windows, vending machines—is outstanding. She operated her box camera at hip level, engaging subjects with her eyes as she shot them.
But who was Vivian Maier? The portrait of Maier that emerges is compelling in its oddity.
Solitary, unmarried, without children or relations of her own, she spent the last 40 years of her life working for other families as a live-in nanny and/or housekeeper.
With food and shelter taken care of, without having to be cooped up all day in a conventional workplace, she could spend a lot more time roving the streets with her camera.
That so much of Maier's work was never even developed (much less shown) suggests it was the process, not the outcome, that was important to her. (Read more)