Film review: Finding Vivian Maier

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Kim Anderson, Contributor Ω

Image courtesy Ravine Pictures

Image courtesy Ravine Pictures

Finding Vivian Maier opens with a stark juxtaposition between analog photography and technological research and archiving methods. Director John Maloof uses documentary-style filmmaking to explain how he discovered the immense, beautiful and previously entirely unseen work of late street photographer Vivian Maier at a storage unit auction.

Maloof discovers that Maier had hundreds of thousands of photographs along with boxes of undeveloped film.

Taking the audience through his arduous journey of uncovering Maier’s work, Maloof tries desperately to learn about the life she led, and successfully maintains a storyline that allows us to see as much of Maier’s life as he found it.

Maier was a classic street photographer who captured the tragic, the tender and the beautiful in the everyday human subject. Her photographs shown were captivating and inspiring. In one sense because of her great eye for the technical elements of a good photo, but also because these photos capture images in history that tell stories.

This film raises many questions. For instance, are photographs are taken to be seen? And, does great artwork primarily come from darkness and pain? The audience is left to answer those questions for themselves.

Finding Vivian Maier can ignite debate on photography as a practice, or the impact Maier has on the way we look at the usefulness of photo as a visual recording of time.

Maloof pairs stirring, emotional interviews with the now-adult families who Maier nannied, with video footage taken by Maier, in attempts to piece together her identity. This proved to be a battle throughout the film.

Maloof aims to find out who Maier was, and while he doesn’t get a definitive answer, he discovers that she was a highly secretive, solitary, mysterious and an oftentimes strange individual. For these reasons, the documentary is raw and real, leaving out unnecessary speculation and only focusing on the conclusions Maloof has gathered.

The musical score fit perfectly with the subject matter – it is eerie, mysterious, and at times, dark. Paring black and white photographs with haunting instrumental tracks, Maloof effectively conveys feelings of uneasiness and curiosity.

Finding Vivian Maier is for anyone who enjoys a clean and crisp documentary, a little mystery and has an interest in photography or history.