Movie Review - Finding Vivian Maier

Written and directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, this documentary is about how historian John Maloof himself found the negatives of an old, female photographer in Chicago named Vivian Maier who died in 2009 and left behind a huge and veritable, treasure trove of unpublished artwork. The documentary follows as Maloof attempts to learn about Maier's life and also print and exhibit her pictures.

What was surprising was that Maier worked as a nanny who never really tried to get her mainly black-and-white portraits published anywhere. Thousands and thousands of her negatives sat untouched in boxes in a storage facility until she passed at age 83. Maloof tries to ascertain why that was the case. It's since been decided that she was a great photographer and given how she did make an effort to save her work as a crazy pack rat, a posthumous discovery seemed inevitable but she died alone and practically penniless.

Maloof interviews the adult children for whom Maier was nanny as well as some of her employees and friends. They provide perspective on this woman who was mysterious and at times difficult. She even famously worked for talk show host Phil Donahue. He didn't have too much to say about her, but the question of why Maier never shared her work keeps coming up. Because she's now dead, that question can never be answered.

A better question to ask the interviews, which Maloof and Siskel don't ask, is why didn't anyone who knew her ever ask to see her work while she was alive. From all accounts, everyone she knew was aware that she was a photographer. She carried her Rolleiflex camera everywhere constantly. She made a living otherwise through caring for other people, but the irony was that nobody really cared about her art.

She worked as a nanny for people who could afford to have a nanny. This mainly included affluent or well-off, white people. Everyone gathered that she valued her privacy, but it might say just as much about the people for whom she worked as her that no one wanted to acknowledge her art while she was alive. Maloof and Siskel never pursue that angle. There is a Vivian Maier-crying-for-help moment that a former friend admits to ignoring, which speaks to this angle, but it's not quite the same thing.

Perhaps, Vivian Maier was destined to be the Emily Dickinson of the photography world. But, if someone had bothered to show more of an interest in her art when she was alive, who knows where she'd be now? Nevertheless, this documentary is well-made and utilizes or incorporates Maier's footprints, including audiotapes she made, in a compelling way.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for general audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 23 mins.


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