Vivian Maier was a very private woman, quite lonely and didn’t have any family of her own. Had she had made herself known she would have become a famous photographer. She used to wear men’s shirts, and a big floppy hat. She always had her camera around her neck.
John Maloof went to his local auction and bided on a chest full of photographic negatives in 2007 as he was looking for old photographs of Chicago for a project, in the end he never used them, and the box got pushed aside for a few months. He then went back to the negatives and began scanning them in, he uploaded 100 photos to an online blog and received a huge positive response. He thought the photos were good, but never knew how good they actually were. He wanted to find out about Vivian Maier and began with a simple google search, but there was nothing. He couldn’t work out how this photographer was unheard of. Amongst the box of negatives were receipts, and envelopes, he then found a recurring address so he phoned the landline, to discover that Vivian Maier was a nanny.
People that new her, had no idea that she took pictures, let alone to this scale. John Maloof then contacted the auction, and brought the other boxes full of more negatives. He contacted galleries to have her work exhibited but nowhere was interested so he did it on his own.
Her photos are remarkable, she was a brilliant street photographer. She had such a creative mind but had to spend her time as a maid, scrubbing the floors and taking care of children. She was wonderful to the children, she loved them and they loved her. Life was more adventurous with her around. The children she looked after, now grown up remember her taking photos, and spending hours getting everything right. One of the children got hit by a car, and the whole family remember her taking photos of it, rather than looking after him.
She also filmed things as well as photographing them, she documented events, she was a true journalist, but usually you would film events to show people, but she kept it all private. She never liked telling people her name, and through all her documents she spelt her name differently. She took up Nannying for the freedom.
She then went travelling, and with it came thousands of photos from around the world. John Maloof says that he feels guilty for exposing such a private woman’s collection of work. People find the mystery of Vivian Maier more interesting than her work.
She had a French accent, when analysed by a linguist it was discovered that it was faked because she lengthened her vowels longer than a real French woman would have. Her friends believed that she was born in France, but Maloof discovered that she was born in New York.
She spent some time in France, so Maloof went there and found her only living cousin, who showed him a camera that belonged to Vivian’s mother.
A letter proves that she did intend her work to be shown and printed by someone else, she knew she was a good photographer. In the boxes there was even un-developed rolls of film that she had shot, so today people are seeing work that she made but never even saw herself.
She was a masterful photographer but printing wasn’t her forte. Maloof is still trying to get her work shown, and recognised as one of the greats of street photography.
Other children that she looked after recall the feeling of embarrassment because she would take photos of complete strangers, who they believed probably felt like they were being mocked.
She sees the unappealing nature of human beings in her photos. She became so distracted with photography that one time when she was out with the children she just walked off and left them, and the police would find them. She became interested in headlines from newspapers about child abuse, and women being abused by men, people around her remember her being quite jumpy around men also, so gathered that something bad might have happened to her.
One of the children she looked after doesn’t have fond memories of her, and talks about the multiple occasions of when Vivian would force feed her, she would pin her down and push food into the girl’s throat and choke her until she swallowed it. There was this dark side to her. She would just lose her temper, and one time when the 5 year old girl was learning to tie her laces, she lost it because she was taking too long, and she started banging her head on the side of the wall.
She asked for her room to have a lock put on the door, and the room was full of newspapers, they would cover the floor, and the piles would be so heavy that it caused the floor to warp and sink. She would have her books laid out so that if anyone touched them or moved them an inch, she would know. It got to the point where the newspaper stacks were left around the house, and one day a neighbour was decorating and asked Vivian’s employer for some newspaper so she gave him some, and when Vivian notices she went berserk, she was screaming so loud about these newspapers. They had to let her go.
She took a young child that she was looking after (the same that she force-fed) to the stockyards, she remembers on her way saying where are you taking me, and Vivian replied with it’s a surprise, as you can imagine the scenes that this poor girl saw were horrifying.
I wish I had analysed her photos before watching the documentary Finding Vivian Maier because its difficult to be objective now. When it got to the half way point of the film I was amazed and in awe of this talented photographer, but then you find out this dark side to her, and I was so heart broken, because this beautiful connection grew between myself and her, and it was just severed, with this cruel side to her personality. This being said it doesn’t take away from the fact that she was an amazing photographer. Specialists looking back on her, believe that she suffered from mental illness. The ending of the documentary is meant to be uplifting and proud, with building music played in the background, but I’m left feeling disheartened.