Finding Vivian Maier: Review

In 2007, real estate agent John Maloof made a trip to a local auction house in the hope of purchasing old photographs, to be used in a historical book he was working on.

Bidding for a box of negatives somewhat irrelevant to his project would be the start of a personal quest for Maloof. The quest leads him to Vivian Maier, a recently deceased nanny who hoarded thousands of pictures that she never released to the public.

Who was this artist? What motivated her to put so much work into street photography without sharing it for the world to appreciate? These are the questions that director John Maloof asks in Finding Vivian Maier.

Whilst we’re not provided with all of the answers, the film is a compelling piece if work. As well as showcasing Maier’s weird and wonderful body of work, it’s a fascinating character study of a photographer who was also weird and wonderful.

Using talking heads from people who knew Maier best (primarily the children she nannied as well as the parents who hired her), we’re presented with a real mystery that wouldn’t be out of place in a detective novel. An introverted and creative woman, who spoke with a possible fake French accent and claimed to be a spy, Maier’s character is one of quirk and contradictions.

As Maloof starts to bring the pieces of the puzzle together, it’s quite clear that her story has dark undertones too, her fascination with the morbid and her general hatred of men brought to the forefront.

What’s really great about this film is that there’s plenty of ‘evidence’ to back up what is being said on-screen, with visuals of the photographs and a home made video of Maier taking a child to a slaughter house.

John Maloof proves to be as interesting as his subject; his obsession in unraveling her mystery providing a multi-layered narrative to the film. I liked his direction as well; simple yet effective. There’s something visually pleasing with his own personal film work; his expansive shots of Maier’s belongings laid out symmetrically are particularly pleasing to the eye.

A snapshot of an artist shrouded in mystery, Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary with startling photography, great depth and a central character who will puzzle and haunt you long after the film’s credits.

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