Thoughts on “Finding Vivian Maier”

My two cents about Vivian Maier.

I saw the documentary of Vivian Maier’s life a few months ago and it rattled me, deeply, so much so it’s taken me this long to assimilate it. Watching this movie, I distinctly identified with her need to capture precious real moments, glimpsed in an instant, composed between seconds. She devoted herself to her craft in private, never sharing her images with others but ubiquitously known to have the camera with her at all times. I am certain if she knew all of the scrutiny she was receiving now she would be mortified. And yet, I was intrigued to discover, she left a clear trail of clues for and of herself. A dizzyingly cluttered trail, of 1000s of photo prints and negatives, newspapers and receipts, boxes and boxes of undeveloped film, all patiently  just waiting for the world to discover her. Bold enough to photograph fearlessly, yet so timid about possible rejection that she would craft letters of submission and then save them, unsent, among her collections. It screams, “Find me!”

What would become of any of us in such circumstances? An intensely private single woman, with a passion for art and a true eye for photography, a beloved skill learned from her mother. Living in a time when women of her “station” were primarily hired for domestic opportunities and jobs for “odd” unattached older women as she aged, rarer still. Living among the lives and children of her well off employers, always to be locking them out of her privacy, yet always the voyeur of theirs.  Ultimately, for most of these people, she was little more than a convenience, like your dish washer or an iron and they pay her just about as much attention. Meanwhile Vivian displays a penchant to pursue, capture and portray stories of the marvelous mundane as well as the macabre in the every day. Taking the rich people’s children to the rough parts of town to see & photograph real every day life playing out in the streets and alley’s of Chicago.

As she ages and the commodity of her passion’s aggregate begins to make her upper floor bedroom sag noticeably into the ceiling below, realizing that time and space are limited, she must have been panicked about what would happen to her precious collections. Her sanity and ability to control her circumstances slowly ebbing away until she dies alone and unknown, taken away to the hospital after a fall, never to return.  Within months of her passing she is discovered by John Maloof, a complete stranger who bought a box of her things at a warehouse auction and who is now the steward of her “photographic estate”. In the end, of all the people they interviewed who knew her, some friends, some employers, some children she had cared for now grown, all tried to  explain from their perspective who she was; but I don’t think any of them really did.

Just wow. What a story! It truly spoke to me about the importance of putting your passions out there fearlessly. Would really love to see her work in person someday. . .

I made this a few years ago as a reminder to myself to keep making and pushing myself to be better. As I walked out of the theater it kept floating back to me again.

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