In 2007, budding historian John Maloof bought a box of old photos and found himself in possession of some remarkable street photography by a woman called Vivian Maier. He put a selection upon Flickr, where it met with huge public interest that eventually led to record-breaking exhibitions.
Maloof began asking himself about the woman behind the work, setting out on the grinding quest for information that led to the making of this film. The results are surprising enough: Maier was a viciously private person, a Chicago nanny who never married, dragged her charges around the city in search of motifs, had no friends and hit some very hard times before her death in 2011.
But they’re not as enthralling as the movie’s subtext and raison d’être: how and why we watch others. Are we chroniclers or participants? Privateers or public servants? And perhaps most pertinent of all: when does observance become intrusive and how do we prioritise creativity and respect privacy in the public domain? Assisted by Bowling for Columbine vet Siskel, Maloof’s own uneasy journey into an insular life is a palimpsest of theory made practical. It should transition well to European screens.
Finding Vivian Maier | Directed by John Maloof, Charlie Siskel (USA 2013) with Vivian Maier, John Maloof. Starts June 26.
Originally published in issue #128, June 2014