Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Finding Vivian Maier: The Nanny with a Camera
Maier was a much better photographer than she was a nanny, but nobody knew
during her relatively anonymous life. Were it not for a fateful box of negative
bought on-spec at a clearance auction, Maier and her work would have quietly slipped
into oblivion. John Maloof, the scrounger who “discovered” Maier & co-producer-co-director
Charlie Siskel uncover the unheralded street photographer’s life and art in Finding Vivian Maier (trailer here), which opens this
Friday at the IFC Center.
her resemblance to RKO contract player Edna May Oliver, it was probably
preordained that Maier would be a nanny. Maier’s former charges all remember
her carrying a camera on their outings, as well as her forceful personality,
but none of the families she worked for (briefly including single father Phil
Donahue) ever thought they really knew her. They certainly had no idea of the extensive
photographic archive she amassed.
Maier’s photos did not really fit the project Maloof was working on, but he
recognized they had “something.” He put a few on the net and they quickly went
viral. Suddenly administering the Maier collection became his calling. Somewhat
to his surprise, the proper photographic art establishment has been reluctant
to embrace Maier (although sage viewers might not be slack-jaw shocked to find
them jealously guarding their cultural gate-keeping roles). However, some of the
most striking sequences of Finding compare
Maier’s work side-by-side with thematically related pictures from canonical
photographers, including Diane Arbus. Needless to say, her work holds up.
Indeed, a blind viewing of her photographs might lead one to guess they were
the work of an artistic affiliated with the Photo League in its heyday.
showcases Maier’s oeuvre, but it is not hagiography. Far from being St. Vivian
the Undiscovered, Maier’s behavior evidently took a problematic turn in her
later years. To their credit, Maloof & Siskel never shy away from troubling
incidents detailed by the grown children once entrusted to her care. After all,
artists often exhibit anti-social tendencies. Considering her interest in macabre
subjects (even shooting crime scenes when the opportunity arose), an armchair
Freudian would readily assume she had a host of unresolved issues.
Remarkably measured, Finding does its best to present a full portrait of the elusive
Maier. It is marked by a deep sense of mystery, but Maloof also vividly
captures the exhilaration of discovering her rich body of work. It is
considerably more of a film-viewing experience than the majority of art docs, which
mostly just invite the audience to marvel at how nice such-and-such pieces
might be. Instead, Finding is a tad
edgy, but still oddly uplifting. Highly recommended for photography connoisseurs
and anyone who appreciates documentaries executed with a bit of style, Finding Vivian Maier opens this Friday
(3/28) in New York at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Labels: Documentary, Vivian Maier