Chicago historian John Maloof bought a box of negatives at a auction, hoping to use them for a history project. What he found were a series of riveting street photographs that seemed to him to be worthy of inclusion in the Canon of great Mid-century photographers. Scanning some 200 negatives he posted them on a photo news board and within hours he received enough encouragement to begin what has become his life work, launching the posthumous career of a quirky spinster shooter named Vivian Maier.
First he bought back as many of the other auction boxes as he could, then began a forensic search for information (rivaling anything on “Cold Case”) about a woman who was known variously as Vivian Maier, Meyer, Mayor even V. Smith.
The film “Finding Vivian Maier”, co- directed by Malloof and Charlie Siskel (“Bowling for Columbine”) is compulsive watching.
Secretive loner Maier lived with variety of families in Chicago as a nanny. She hit the streets with her omnipresent camera, children in tow, using her afternoons to gather an astonished collection of mid-century images that rival those of Eve Arnold, Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus, and Robert Franks in their vivid observation.
Maloof let his fingers do the walking, phoning every iteration of possible area codes added to 7 digit number found on a receipt. He eventually linked to a series of families and neighbors who knew Vivian, including two brothers who had stored her possessions and wanted to empty the storage unit.
Overhead shots of Maloof sorting Maier’s ephemera are a nice stylistic choice. And his work reviewing the material led him to New York and Europe on her trail. What emerges is a portrait of an opinionated, secretive artist who never fit in, yet found a way to continue to shoot, following her lifetime passion for images
Maloof now maintains a vast archive. Eccentric Maier was a pack rat of Andy Warhol sized ambition.
Maloof and his lab are archiving printing endless undeveloped rolls of images.
Attempts to have her images acquired by major museums have failed to date, but that hasn’t stopped a triumphant march of Miss Maiers images, which have become a hot ticket with international collectors and galleries.
The curious personal details of her story position the film somewhere between Richard Press’s delightful portrait of legendary street photographer Bill Cunningham (“Bill Cunningham , New York”) and Jessica Yu’s 2004 documentary about outsider artist Henry Darger “In the Realms of the Unreal.”
The woman and her images will stay in your mind. A MUST SEE