Day 40- Watch a documentary

#63, See 3 documentaries, 1 of 3

Have you heard of Vivian Maier? Perhaps you have, since apparently the headlines were screaming her name a few years ago. Not surprisingly, I missed the stories. I just learned of her this week.

Vivian Maier was a woman who worked as a nanny mainly on Chicago’s North shore. She loved to take the children she cared for on long walks through the city. She was never without her camera, a medium-format Rolleiflex, with which she could shoot from the waist, by looking top down into the viewfinder. This indirect view, along with her inherent boldness, gave her the ability to make photographs of her subjects from about three feet away. Getting this close to strangers gave her photographs an intimacy and immediacy that she might never have gotten otherwise.

She was a prolific photographer, taking more than 150,000 photos in her lifetime. The most fascinating part of Vivian Maier’s story, however, is that no one saw her photos while she was alive. In many cases, she didn’t even see the photos herself, since they were rarely printed.

The photos are mainly of interesting people she found on the street. She managed to capture intriguing faces, raw emotions, humor and tragedy, as she wandered the sidewalks with her charges. Her work is moving and tender- sometimes humorous, sometimes full of despair.

She was an eccentric spinster and when she became elderly, she allowed the payments on the storage unit where she kept all of her negatives, to lapse. The contents of her unit went to auction. Around the time of the auction, Vivian fell during a walk and was injured. She was taken to the hospital, but she did not recover.

One of the purchasers of her negatives, John Maloof, began scanning her work and thought it might be important. The documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, documents Maloof’s search to find the woman behind the photos and answer the question of why she was determined to keep her art to herself. Her story is told beautifully through her photographs, and through the interviews of the people who knew her, or thought they did. Maloof won an Academy Award for his film.

Another film was made, The Vivian Maier Mystery, which was put together by the other purchasers of her negatives at the Chicago auction. I watched this film too, and while it doesn’t have the scope, and perhaps the heart, of Maloof’s film, it is interesting in its own merit.

Some controversy has arisen as to whether there are known relatives of Maier’s who might claim ownership of her work, or if her story is being told in the way she would want it to be told.

What is not controversial, is the fact that Vivian Maier was a true artist. She was self-taught and beholden to no one. She created the art she wanted to create and she did it for her own pleasure. She found a day job to support her while she did what she loved. When we see Vivian’s work, we are seeing the purity of her vision- unsullied by the opinions and commentary of others.

I have requested permission to insert some of her photos in this blog posting. In the mean time, you can view her photos on the Vivian Maier website. Both films are available on iTunes.

325 days to go!

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