Finding Vivian Maier

Finding Vivian Maier is playing at the Sie Film Center through Thursday, though only at 2 pm. There’s a slight possibility its run may be extended.  Go if you can—it’s a fabulous movie. And if you can’t see it there, get the DVD when it comes out (no release date yet).

It’s the story of a Chicago nanny who was discovered, after her death, to be a prolific street photographer. The filmmaker, John Maloof, who comes from a long line of flea market aficionados, bought a box of her negatives in 2007 after she failed to make all the payments on a storage locker. He started looking at them, not quite sure what to do with them, and decided they needed to be exhibited. He approached a couple of the major art galleries about showing her work and quickly realized he was on his own.

So he went for it, tracking down the other buyers at the auction and buying as much of her belongings as he could. He found receipts and letters in some boxes, and talked to the children she babysat and the shopkeepers she knew. I’m not sure which is more intriguing, her mysterious life or his efforts or the film itself.

So much in this movie reminded me of myself or of family members. She was very similar to my brother Matt: both were reclusive, intelligent, creative hoarders who preferred the society of children to adults. Maier kept things like receipts and letters that enabled Maloof to trace much of her life. She stacked up newspapers until she could get back to them. Matt didn’t do those things, but he did own 9,000 books and hundreds of models.

My favorite quote from the movie came from a man who said that street photographers are gregarious in that they go out into public spaces and mingle with people, but also solitary (solitaries, I think he said) because they are standing back and taking pictures of what passes in front of them. I am exactly that, but I don’t do much street photography, at least not of people. I take pictures of buildings and flowers, possibly because they don’t glare at you if they catch you taking their picture.

For information about the film: Finding Vivian Maier

To see photos: Vivian Maier

Artsy’s Vivian Maier page