Finding Vivian Maier: Unveiling Mysterious Artist and her Secret

The captivating documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” tells the story of an enigmatic nanny who left behind a secret trove of over 100,000 photographs, and is now recognized as one of the 20th century’s greatest photographers.

Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, “Finding Vivian Maier” opens on Friday, March 28th in New York at the IFC Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, and in Los Angeles at The Landmark with a national release to follow. The film is also available on Sundance Selects’ video-on-demand platform.

In 2007, amateur historian John Maloof purchased a box of negatives at a Chicago storage locker auction for $380.  Those negatives revealed thousands of black-and-white street photographs taken by a woman named Vivian Maier.

Remarkably, Maier turns out to be a reclusive nanny who had secretly been taking photos for over 40 years.  Unfolding like a thriller, the film follows Maloof and co-director Charlie Siskel, serving as detectives, as they discover Vivian’s strange story, finding clues through the thousands of photographs and other materials (Super 8 footage and audio recordings) among her possessions.

Maier’s secret world is unraveled through her evocative images and interviews with those who knew her, parents who hired her, children she cared for, store owners, movie theater operators, and neighbors who remember her.  End result is a complex portrait of a previously unknown artist and mysterious woman.

Like all good documentaries, “Finding Vivian Maier” reveals as much about the subject as about the two directors, finding them to be almost as obsessive in their search as the artist was in her secret life.  It’s a tribute to the feature’s subtlety that it raises more questions than it can possibly answer, and that at the end, we are left wondering about aspects of Maier’s life and career that are not unveiled.  In this, “Finding Vivian Maier” joins a group of documentaries that have tried to shed light on the mysterious and mythic nature of creativity and production.

End Note
Since 2010, Vivian Maier’s work has been shown throughout the U.S. and Europe. The New York Times ranked her alongside “the great American midcentury street photographers.”  Maier’s work was also collected in a book titled, “Vivian Maier: Street Photographer,” published in 2013.