When John Maloof, a real-estate agent, amateur historian, and garage-sale obsessive, acquired a box of photographic materials and personal detritus at an auction in suburban Chicago in 2007, he quickly realized that he had stumbled upon an unknown master of street photography. But despite his vigorous snooping, he could find no record of Vivian Maier, the name scribbled on the scraps of paper that he found among the negatives, prints, and undeveloped rolls of film. He tracked down the rest of the boxes emptied from an abandoned storage garage, amassing a collection of hundreds of thousands of frames shot in New York, Chicago, France, South America, and Asia between the nineteen-fifties and the nineteen-seventies.
Two years after he bought the first box, he Googled the name again and, to his surprise, found an obituary announcing that Vivian Maier had died only a few days before. The short text had just enough information for Maloof to deduce that Maier had worked as a nanny in suburban Chicago.
In “Finding Vivian Maier,” a new documentary about Maloof’s discovery that he directed with Charlie Siskel, interviews with Maier’s former charges, now middle-aged, do little to diminish the wondrous peculiarity of her story. They remember her as a woman of contradictory impulses: she was uncompromising yet playful, endlessly curious yet intensely private, and, despite being a caretaker, could be aloof to the point of callousness, even cruelty. Although none of her charges seemed to realize that she was amassing a vast body of vital work, they remember countless day trips to the seedy streets of Chicago; the daunting bustle of downtown; the boredom that set in when Maier would linger too long, taking what seemed like endless pictures of one thing.
With a twin-lens Rolleiflex camera held inconspicuously at hip-height, Maier captured fleeting moments and turned them into something extraordinary. One scowling lady fixes another’s wrinkled veil; a child with grimy cheeks and tear-filled eyes defiantly crosses her arms in front of a window display of draped gloves; a nun waits in the shadows; a prostrate inebriate cups his forehead; a young man rides an absurdly large horse under the El. Doorways, parking spots, bus stops, industrial neighborhoods, movie-theater box offices, city parks, suburban dead ends, train platforms, empty restaurant tables, storefronts, newspaper stands—she photographed the in-between, unexamined places.
to read the full article by Rose Lichter-Marck go here.
All photographs © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection/Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery.