In 2007, at a Chicago auction, John Maloof purchased several boxes of photo negatives once owned by an unknown woman named Vivian Maier. Unsure what images they held, or if they would be worth any value, Maloof had the negatives developed, scanned, and put on the internet. Suddenly the viewing of these photos exploded and the attention for them took a life of their own. Immediately Maloof developed more of the negatives and purchased as many of the items he could from a storage locker that held everything from receipts, to home made movie reels, to cassette recordings. Even with all the attention the images had garnered, Maloof could find no information on who was this Vivian Meir who died in 2009, and what were the reasons she had 100,000 beautiful photos hidden away. John Maloof then set out on a quest to find out who this artistic no one was, and documented his search and his findings in the 2013 documentary film, ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ now available to view on Netflix.
John Maloof has taken a mysterious figure and in searching out information on the woman he has created a nearly perfect documentary film. From the opening shot of Maloof showcasing the endless amount of personal effects, to the final shots of Vivian Mair’s photos showcased around the world, Maloof captures your attention and allows Vivian Vaier to haunt your thoughts. Maloof introduces a piercing riddle of a woman no one seems to know anything about aside from being a nanny and always carrying a camera around. Charlie Siskel helps direct Maloof who narrates as well, and they do their homework taking you step by step as Maloof journeys closer and closer to finding the truth. You experience the excitement of every new discovery, and the shock of every truth.
‘Finding Vivian Maier’ not only showcases the talent of a woman who may or may not in the end wanted the attention, but it also promulgates a woman who lived in secret and unusually for reasons unclear, even to those who she interacted with. Maloof finds and interviews people who remember Vivian Mair when she worked as their nanny. Each interview divulges both significant and distressing knowledge of the photojournalist with the hidden talent. Maloof pulls no punches, allowing those who remember her to tell the truth, painting a picture of a very aloof woman with a hidden past that may have been a lot more lonely than anyone realized, and perhaps much more disturbed as well. Maloof even allows Maier to talk from beyond herself, showcasing many of her black and white photos, as well as playing her personal cassette recordings with her own voice.
Maloof also speaks with gallery owners, photographers, and even the unknown family of Mair, who all give their opinions on her and her posthumous fame. ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ captures the viewers curiosity, and radiates feelings of concern and even a touch of fear. Maloof attempts to find the story of the secretive Vivian Maier as best as can be achieved, but with the small amount of facts he obtains, Vivian Maier still seems out of reach, like an artistic woman fighting inner demons and loneliness that no one will truly understand. While John Maloof gives praise and attention to her awe inspiring work, you can’t help but feel the film also goes against her wishes. Still, ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ remains a fascinating documentary looking at an eccentric artist the world almost never knew, and her stirring work that astounds everyone, years after her death. ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ is a tremendous step in documentary film making, and an exceptional step in entertainment.