On Finding Vivian Maier

I first heard of Vivian Maier last year when the dance department collaborated with our filmmaker neighbor to create a performance piece about this 20th century Chicago nanny, intensely private and eccentric, who took over a 100,000 photographs, who died without ever showing them, fascinating images of street life and self portraits.

Part of the narrative that night was the anger those performers felt for the man who had come across her negatives at a warehouse auction and was now making a fortune off of them.  And most infuriating, he dared to make a documentary about it.

Thoughts after seeing Finding Vivian Maier:

John Maloof who has an eye for such things, buys up a box of old negatives, hoping it might be worth something, finds some really great stuff, seeks out the buyers of the other boxes that sold that same day, buys them up, thus beginning an obsession to find out as much as he can about the artist, who has not one reference on the internet.  He approaches museums, calls numbers off old receipts, sorts boxes and boxes of things she had hoarded, weathers rejection after rejection, finally deciding he must do it himself, spending countless days and dollars scanning the impossibly huge archive including hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film, and hours of homemade movies and audio recordings.

If not him, then who else could have recognized and acted and dedicated all he did, seeking out and interviewing the only people who knew her, the families she worked for and lived with, always padlocking her door and never letting anyone in?  Who else would have bothered finding the tiny village in France she twice visited by painstakingly matching her photos of the church steeple with photos on-line, traveling there with her work and mounting an exhibit?  Who else could have made such a fascinating film out of boxes that otherwise would have ended up in the dump?

Many of those interviewed, upper class people who had live-in help, said how degrading that must have been for her, this accomplished artist, having to be a common nanny.  Over and over again it comes up, how tragic people find her, having taken all these beautiful photographs and never once showing them.

What is the purpose, they ask, if not to share, as if the only reason someone would do something like take photographs is to get noticed.  And it seems that Vivian had no interest in getting noticed, at least while she was still alive.

Did anyone ever ask to see her pictures?

People seem to think it's just a choice of showing the work or not, as if they only thing you need to do to become a rich and famous artist is take some great pictures.  What they forget, or have never known, is the amount of energy and time and money and courage it takes convincing others that the pictures you make are worth looking at and talking about and buying.  And Vivian had no interest in that.

She was interested in having the freedom to walk about the city and take pictures, and so it seems to me that being a nanny was a perfect job, and John Maloof, the perfect collaborator.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed, Joanna. Looking forward to seeing the film, and hoping that John Maloof stumbles upon your blog.