In 2007, real estate agent John Maloof acquired some negatives through the auction of an abandoned storage-locker. He was putting together a book on his Chicago neighbourhood and quickly realized these photos were irrelevant to his project, but he kept coming back to them because they were simply beautiful.
He has since bought up all of her work that he could, and attributed the photos to Vivian Maier, a woman almost impossible to nail down because that’s the way she wanted it. Intensely private, she spent her life working as a Nanny, faking a french accent, occasionally posing as a spy, and always, always, taking pictures. These pictures, over 100 000 went largely undeveloped and her work unknown. It wasn’t until after her death in 2009 that Maloof started soliciting attention for her photographs, and now she’s a street photography or significant interest.
This documentary seeks out the personality behind the photos but finds that Vivian Maier may have prefered to remain anonymous. We get conflicting reports from the children she helped bring up, the parents she worked for, the neighbours she shunned, and the only thing that everyone agrees on is that she didn’t want to be known, and probably would have hated the very idea of this documentary.
Her pictures are indeed worth all the fuss. You get the sense that Maloof is profiting quite handsomely from them, and that makes you sad for the woman who apparently died in destitution. You wonder who would go to the trouble of taking so very many photos if she never intended to show them to anyone, but we never know the answer. Vivian Maier remains unfound.