Finding Vivian Maier opens with a number of older people staring off into space. One by one they give a one word description of Vivian. Words like Private and Enigmatic finally came to most of them. Then we see this rather nerdy fellow with an unfortunate haircut and horn rim glasses. He says he was at an auction and he bought a bunch of negatives. He found that he liked what he saw in the images. He bought more negatives and then found even more in a storage unit. He found around a hundred thousand images in undeveloped film and negatives.
Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary with a strong mystery undercurrent. Who was she and why did she take a gazillion photos of random strangers? John Maloof, the man who found this stuff, looks through her items and finds that she worked as a nanny. At one point she worked for Phil Donahue, who gives a short interview for the film. There is an ongoing slideshow of her images, audio from a number of cassettes where she recorded her thoughts, and occasional bits of footage from rolls of 8mm film she shot.
As the story develops, we find that Vivian was insane. We know right off that Vivian was a hoarder and soon discover that she loved pretending to be other people. It isn’t clear if she was actually a multiple personality or if she just liked make believe. Vivian liked to speak with a French accent and there are self portraits where she is dressed in much the same fashion as Julia Child from her French Chef days. She clearly had very little empathy for other people and had no problem taking photos or shooting movies of people that might not have wanted her to film them. She was obsessed with keeping her own life private and also obsessed with violating everyone else’s privacy.
What really makes the Vivian Maier story interesting is that she took all these images in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. She documented the world in the way that everyone with a cell phone documents the world now. This is a window into a time and place we don’t often see. Finding Vivian Maier showcases the most interesting images. At one point they compare her work to the work of other street photographers and you can see where she was influenced and possibly outright copied the work of her contemporaries.
I’ve never been a huge fan of street photography and capturing images of random strangers was never something that I enjoyed. Vivian had no problem walking up to people and snapping the shutter. She doesn’t smile in many of her self portraits and she was not a big fan of people smiling in general. She was odd, but then, aren’t we all?
Finding Vivian Maier has a very homemade, lack of polish feel to it. Interviews and slideshows and shots of mounds of junk while John shares his thoughts about this or that.
It was a very interesting film. I liked it.