The story of Vivian Maier a nanny in 60-70's New York and Chicago who, unbeknownst to many, had a secret passion for photography. Her incredible body of work, only discovered after her ... See full summary »
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Real estate agent John Maloof explains how a trip to a local auction house, in search for old pictures to use for a history book about his neighborhood, resulted in him bidding and winning a box full of old negatives. John goes through the massive quantity of negatives, describes how impressed he is by the quality of the images, becomes quickly determined they are not reverent to his project and just puts them away. That could have very likely had been the end of the story, if the power of the images had not pushed him to fall in love with photography. John confides that his photo hobby quickly motivated him to set up a darkroom and devote large amounts of time shooting. As he learned more about photography, he recognized that those negatives he had bought, then stored, were the work of a real master. In an attempt to confirm his suspicion, he selected about 100 images and put them online with the hope that the feedback would confirm his judgement as to the strength of the images. Written by
Lane J. Lubell of Cinemashadow.com
Well, not quite. Vivian Maier was a nanny (and I assume a good housekeeper and cook) mostly for families who lived in the Chicago suburbs. She was a very, very private person who had a passion for taking photos, especially street scenes around Chicago and some of these pictures were quite outstanding - and that's it. The problem for the art establishment and probably a lot of the public is that Ms Maier doesn't fit into the preconceived notions of a photographer. She seems not to have had any creative training or worked professionally as a photographer, had no book published, no exhibitions, no freelance commissions yet after her death a whole treasure trove of her wonderful creative work is slowly being revealed.
I enjoyed this documentary made by John Maloof (who seems to have acquired the largest amount of her work) and Charlie Siskel and their credible attempt to piece the life of Maier together. Fortunately it avoids the pitfalls of contemporary documentaries with its quick editing of close-up talking heads, inappropriate background music and non-relevant film clips to link sequences together. There are plenty of people talking here, the children, now adults, who she looked after, photographers Joel Meyerowitz and Mary Ellen Mark, neighbors who knew her when she was old but they are all left to tell their stories straight to the camera.
Many of her photos are shown in the film and of course they are wonderful to look at but her work really can't be considered strong enough to change any notions of the meaning of photography. Her street scenes have brilliant framing and subject matter but so did the work of several dozen camera folk of the New York School and the Photo League plus their work has an added significance because of its strong emotional punch. Maier's work is much more straight reportage which is why I like it so much.
The film is a worthwhile introduction to an intriguing photographer who existed outside the conventional photographic world.
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