I went to see “Finding Vivian Maier” on Wednesday April 2 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. After watching this beautiful, haunting film I had so many thoughts I immediately decided I had to write them down. They tumbled into my Evernote app on my Note 3 and I’ve edited them a little.
Although I can still remember the film very clearly I knew that unless I immediately downloaded all the thoughts rushing through my mind as a result of seeing the story of this amazing and intriguing photographer I might forget the essence and words to describe my experience. After all photographs should speak for themselves, right? But there was so much more than simply photographs. There was a life that, though she is dead, seemed to come back through the documentary as we tried to piece together the story of her life and watch as the mystery unfolded.
Photographs tell a story… in fact they tell several stories. This film did more… it made me keep asking questions, especially “Why?” What made Vivian Maier hide her art from everyone? Perhaps because she was such a private person. It’s scary to think that over 100,000 negatives would have been destroyed had it not been for John Maloof.
I was so glad I decided to go and see the film. Before I saw the link in one of my photography groups on Facebook I had never heard of Vivian Maier. It was a truly fascinating documentary about someone who was one of the world’s most prolific street photographers of the 20th Century (even if it was awarded posthumously). She never shared her art, yet she took thousands of powerful photographs of Urban Chicago and New York in addition to almost every country in the world. She would have been famous for sure, but as we see in the film perhaps she would have preferred it this way, as she never craved the limelight and she clearly marched to her own drum.
The film was very moving as well as fascinating. All the time I found myself seeking to understand what drove Vivian Maier, wondering why she took the photographs she did. Back then Career Nannies did not go around taking photographs, yet this self-taught photographer went out combing the streets taking photographs of just about everything. Her framing, composition, her eye and the way she was able to get people to feel comfortable with her was just fascinating. I felt that this was a woman who marched to her own beat and while she may have been troubled in later years I really felt that she lived her life the way she wanted to. I cannot even begin to list all the amazing photography that I saw that night. I found myself wishing I could freeze frame and relive the experience of seeing all of them and that others would be able to see them too. Then I realized that through her photographs – I could do exactly that. And, I thought, wow, I would love to be able to take photographs like this and to see more photography like this too. What wonderful inspiration.
Finding Vivian Maier will make me look at my photography with fresh eyes, which is always good. I plan to continue going out and about photographing as much as I can, take even more photographs, and focus even more on the “Why?” and what interests me.
Vivian Maier’s photographs were mostly black and white although she did change to colour at a point in her life. I thought her black and white photographs were so moving that it felt like being in a Technicolour world and then coming back into a certain greyness. Perhaps we photographers need to take a step back and from the “tyranny” of the online photo-sharing culture. Sometimes I think it’s simply visual overload. That evening I decided I wasn’t going to upload any photos for a couple of days, whereas I usually upload one every evening. I just wanted to reflect on the film I had just seen and consider its impact and influence on me as a photographer. It has certainly impacted me, exactly how much or how it will express itself I will see over time. However I am still thinking of the film and keep going back and viewing her photography and wondering why that business letter was never sent.
I have nothing but praise for John Maloof who did a phenomenal job in bringing Vivian Maier’s art and talent to light for the world to enjoy. The dedication, commitment and persistence he applied to his own craft of curating and scanning all those negatives I thought was simply breathtaking.
Interesting that the establishment still doesn’t see merit in accepting her work and I hope that will change in time. The great thing is that, thanks to John Maloof the people are seeking out and enjoying Vivian Maier’s photos for themselves.
I was truly thrilled to have been able to see Finding Vivian Maier and to share the world through her eyes. I’ve told everyone I know to go and see the film… particularly if they are photographers. Seeing it at TIFF Bell Lightbox was wonderful too – a beautiful space. In some ways I am glad Vivian Maier still managed to keep her secrets and that mystery about her. I think, had she lived she would have shunned any publicity at all and her work may have remained hidden. However her art photographs will have us (and certainly myself) asking questions for many months to come, and constantly thinking of how seeing her work can help me improve on my own photography journey.
To see Vivian Maier’s photographs visit her website.
And you haven’t already I hope you have an opportunity to see the film. Check the Vivian Maier website for the listings.