Her name has been on every photography site for the last year, Vivian Maier. The story grew from early 2010 to become one of the biggest stories in the photographic art world – ever?
This woman was one of the most prolific and hugely talented street photographers of the last century but was completely unknown until just after her death in 2009. The documentary Finding Vivian Maier was released earlier this year in the US and this summer in Ireland. I finally got to see it this week and I was completely and wholeheartedly blown away.
Vivian’s story is fascinating, from start to finish, and the film reflects that beautifully. You feel like you’re getting to know Vivian yourself as her story unfolds, getting ahead of yourself, completely captivated and intrigued. It peels back the layers, from the matte finish of the stunning works down to the dark core of Vivian’s being.
She was a contradiction in so many ways, an outspoken, opinionated introvert; a sometimes mean, and lonely, nanny; a photographer who knew her own talent to some extent, yet never sought publication.
She clearly had a huge empathy and saw a lot of contrasts and sad realities in her world.
A lot of her portraits have this amazing quality of power – we look up at these fascinating faces from her waist level Rolleiflex.
She also had this fantastic, sometimes dark, sense of humour.
And as much as any of that, she understood the technicalities of photography, of light. That’s what makes a good photographer a great one. Understanding light. Truly knowing how those little rays and reflections will translate.
I can only imagine how many people she’s already inspired to get out onto the streets. How long must she have waited for that perfect moment to release the shutter?
The guy who made the film has gotten a fair bit of flak for making money off a dead woman’s work but without John Maloof no one might ever have seen that work and he’s funding a huge ongoing archiving project with the sales of prints, books and movie tickets. He might have been the only one compulsive enough, as Maier was, to really pull this off. And then there’s the Vivian Maier scholarship fund too, which aims to provide opportunities and resources for female students at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, co-funded by Maloof.
Do yourself a favour, go and see it in the cinema while you still can. And let me know what you think.