Opening 26 Jun 2014
Vivian Maier is recognized as a leading street photographer of the 20th century, and it is only by chance that her life came to light. In 2007 John Maloof bought a box of undeveloped film in a community auction of private belongings in Chicago. Little did he know that this would give his career a new emphasis, even an obsession. After developing the film, he began researching the photographer, Vivian Maier, as well as searching for other buyers who had picked up her film and other belongings at the auction. In the end he got about 90% or 100,000 photos.
She was born in New York City, February 1, 1926, and spent her childhood with her French mother in France where she began to take landscape photos. As an adult, she returned to the U.S. and settled in Chicago where she worked for various families as a nanny. She loved children, but with adults had a close, guarded personality and kept to herself. However, her photos reflect a huge interest everything on the streets of Chicago: children and adults, rich and poor, male and female, bums and housewives. Her camera, which she held at waist-height, seemed to be a one-way means of communication; people were not aware that they were subjects of her pictures. She never communicated with them – just photographed them. Her specialty was street portraits. Her talent lay in making the moments seems special, while she, with short hair and dressed simply in men’s clothing, always remained in the background.
Maloof and Charlie Siskel have given us a wonderful opportunity to learn about this independent, artistic, very private woman. On screen they interview some of the adults that Maier attended as children, looking back at their impressions – not all positive. They agree that Maier was ahead of her times, that perhaps she had an autistic strain, which prevented direct communication, but allowed for indirect contact through film. They debated whether her French accent was real or assumed, although she did grow up in France. Besides photos, she left behind piles of printed matter, newspapers, etc. She was a hoarder. Some of her former charges paid her rent in her old age, when she was penniless and no longer able to work. Vivian Maier died on April 21, 2009. This film has shown successfully at several film festivals, including Toronto and the Berlinale. It’s quite a valuable report, especially for people interested in photography or in personalities or in life especially in the 1950s-70s. (Becky Tan)