In 2007 John Maloof bid on a box of negatives looking for some photos to accompany a history book he was writing. What he unwittingly discovered was some of the work of an unknown street photographer called Vivian Maier. This documentary follows his search to find the rest of her work and find out who this woman was and why no one had ever heard of her before.
One of the delights of this film is of course the amazing photographs that the subject took over the years, literally thousands, it’s a wonder that she never did have any of these exhibited in her lifetime. The mission that the filmmaker Maloof went on, to find out about her and why she never did have any success in her lifetime, is the driver for the film.
It is a mystery; and how often can we say in this day and age that someone is truly a mystery. If Vivian had started today surely she would have had her Instagram account and her twitter feed and we would all feel like we owned a piece of her. This for me is part of the magic of this film, a woman who lived in our lifetimes who was a great artist and we never even knew she existed; an enigma.
Having Maloof in front of the camera as well as behind it also gives us an insight into the filmmaker’s mind during the project; at one point he expresses remorse, wondering if he is doing a disservice to such an obviously private person by exposing her to the world. But then, like he says, why take the photos if you never intended for anyone to ever see them? John’s curiosity is relentless and contagious.
The score is perfectly balanced, matching our elation, confusion and sadness as the story of Vivian unfolds.
This film is at turns astounding and sad; I felt overwhelmed by the story and the work. The question I was left with is what is more interesting and relevant, the work or the woman behind it?
Watch this now.