For mystery lovers, photography enthusiasts, admirers of a contemporary explorer: Nathan Lerner (1913-1997) who unearthed the voluminous works of legendary “outside” artist, Henry Darger (1892-1973); this hypnotic documentary is a fascinating story of a solitary, insular person; an enigamatic tale of a woman who chose to live her life shrouded in secrecy; all the while executing some of the most remarkable photographs thriving today.
Historian and sleuth John Maloof in a propitious moment purchased hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film, for approximately $400; once developed the images stunned photographers and viewers with the prescient depth, curiosity, vision and “eye” of this unknown talent. The documentary traces Vivian’s journey from her murky past in New York, a ten -year sojourn in France, eventually concluding in Chicago, where she earned her livelihood as a nanny. Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was never seen without a Rolleiflex camera dangling from her neck; tall, formidable and inimitably intimidating her subjects ran the gamut from benign to sublime, perpetually imbued with dignity. She rests comfortably with her iconic predecessors: Weegee (Arthur Fellig), Diane Arbus, Robert Frank.
Vivian is described by the people she worked for and the children in her care as: strange, intransigent, intractable, cruel, elusive, reticent, kind; a monumental hoarder of newspapers, receipts, social security checks; demanding a lock on her door and refusing entry to all. Her solo companion, the trusty tool that never left her presence, her camera captures beautiful moments of her youthful charges; now adults, their memories vary with shades of affection and wariness; one universal truth prevails, she was an unknown entity that briefly touch their lives.
She had no need to develop her rolls, reels of film; her validation came from the photographic process; her camera informed her existence; seeking neither lionization nor fame; her camera was her faithful friend, lover, child; her camera was the constant in her life, never disappointing, always fulfilling; it was enough. Surely, she would have been chagrined at her posthumous awakening; shrugging her impressive shoulders, shunning the publicity, fading into the evening.