Finding Vivian Maier

vivianThis Oscar nominated documentary, Finding  Vivian Maier was extremely interesting, well-organized and well-produced. Its the first of the nominated documentaries I’ve seen, so I’m hoping this level of interesting content and quality permeates the others.

Maier was a notoriously private woman who worked primarily as a nanny to buy herself time and situational access to her one passion, photography. She accumulated over 100,000 photographs in her life and from the very small sample I saw in this film, she not only had a passion, she had skill – crazy, bloody, undeniable skill. Composition, framing and playing with light to create very personal statements about life. Maier was not interested in the superficial, happy, glittered-up reality; she went straight for the jugular with visual precision and intensity, revealing the aspects of people often outside of the mainstream.

vivian2Maier’s work was not discovered until just before she died in 2009. Some tried to promote her work but the art ‘critics’ were not interested. Not until John Maloof, who also wrote and produced this film, used social media to create a frenzy of interest which still persists today. No better way to convince critics to accept talent than to show them they were wrong. Now Maier is considered one of the best street artists to date, posthumously.

There’s plenty of speculation in this film about why Maier never released her photos to the art world; some seemed far fetched and stoking the dramatic for generating commercial interest. After seeing the film, her work and reading a little about her eccentric behaviour, I have my own theory. She knew she was good but like all people who are outliers in their introverted cognitive processes, she just didn’t care what others thought, so she never sought out their approval. She was clearly not interested in monetary gain, rather I suspect she was an altruistic artist in the game for art’s sake.

Of course, that could just be me projecting my own personality on her. Or it could be me aligning myself with her since I too have a unusually large collection of street photos I don’t  share with anyone. In any case, its a more reasonable explanation than inferring a conspiracy theory about mental illness or dark family secrets. Occam’s Razor is still my favourite principle.

Some of the cameos, people who she photographed, filmed or lived with, are good and give insight into this unusual and talented woman. Others were just fluff, filler and hogging camera time for whatever reason.

In any case, I think everyone would find her story compelling, since outliers like Maier are interesting people who do their own thing whether its accepted by the mainstream or not.


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