The new French documentary, Finding Vivian Maier (À la recherche de Vivian Maier) by Charlie Siskel, chronicles the experiences of the obsessive American photographer, Vivian Maier. Maier, born in New York and spending much of her childhood in France, worked as a nanny in Chicago for about 40 years. During that time, she secretly took over 150,000 photos. These photos were not discovered until after her death, when 100,000 negatives, 700 black and white undeveloped rolls, and 2,000 color rolls were discovered in her suitcases. Maier’s incredible work tells the story of many middle-class American families, and also features the architecture of New York, Los Angeles, and other major cities around the world.
Mystery surrounds this fascinating woman, who is now known as one of the most famous street photographers of the 20th century. With a sensitivity that captivates like no other, Maier has immortalized unknown faces from the 1950s-1970s using her Rolleflex camera. It is only by accident that John Maloof, a real estate agent, discovered her work in 2007 when he bought the photos in a lot for $380 at a Chicago auction. Hoping to find some pictures of the Porter Park neighborhood, he was amazed by what he found instead, and intrigued after a Google search for “Vivian Maier” yielded no results. The documentary that Maloof has made, along with the help of Siskel, chronicles his investigation to discover the life of this eccentric, complex character.
While the film has received mixed reviews, it is worth seeing solely for the captivating subject matter. Finding Vivian Maier brings to mind many questions: Why did Maier choose to work as a nanny rather than pursuing a career in photography? Why did she never show her work to anyone? And perhaps most importantly, if Maier were alive today, how might she react to this spotlight on her work after she worked so hard to keep it hidden?
Watch the trailer here. Finding Vivian Maier is out in theatres now.