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Finding Vivian Maier
Genre Documentary
 
Review:

Some of the best stories are the ones shrouded in mystery and history. Finding Vivian Maier is one such story, about a nanny whose street photography hobby established her overnight... years after her death. The reclusive Maier was an eccentric individual to those who knew her, but after her 100,000 photo collection was discovered, it seems as though no one ever really did. Finding Vivian Maier tries to piece together the puzzle of Maier to determine why she took photographs and steered clear of the spotlight.

After real estate agent, John Maloof, won an old box of negatives in an auction - he stumbled upon a rabbit hole and into the mysterious life of Vivian Maier. Initially, he wanted to put together a book of photos of his old neighbourhood, but was inadvertently propelled into photography by the inspirational works of Maier. By piecing together the myriad of photos, working his way back to places and faces, Maloof managed to turn his discovery into the art photography find of the century.

Finding Vivian Maier takes us on Maloof's journey from curious real estate agent to co-director and proponent of Vivian Maier's legacy. We're given full access to Maier's works, which are lauded by art critics and photographers as the work of a master. After getting a taste of the paradoxical squalor and solemnity of her work, Maloof sets about investigating the woman behind the camera through her possessions and by interviewing many employers and children with whom she worked over the years.

Just like Searching for Sugar Man traced the whereabouts of the enigmatic Rodriguez, Finding Vivian Maier, tackles the mysterious nanny like a detective story. Maier's body of work, eccentricities and complex profile make for a fascinating experience as we're introduced to one of the most accomplished street photographers we never knew. The photos are powerful, the interviewees are just as quirky and Maloof's quest to instate Maier's unappreciated work is seemingly noble.

Finding Vivian Maier intertwines two journeys. It's the story of an intensely private woman, whose secretive past prevented her from unveiling her prized collection. Then it's also the story of a young man, whose cultural equivalent of a treasure trove, instilled a desire to bring the late Maier to the world's attention.

The black-and-white photography is awe-inspiring, thought-provoking and riddled with emotion. Oddly enough, art institutions are loathe to give the work its dues on the basis that the photographer didn't print and choose specific images. Maloof's intentions to spread the word also have unanswered questions, making you wonder if you're not being exposed to a high quality advertorial.

Nevertheless, John Maloof and co-director Charlie Siskel present a compelling and haunting documentary, staking their claim, exploring the nature of the work, harnessing the accounts of character witnesses and putting all the pictures together to provide a mosaic character portrait of Vivian Maier. It's a joy to see her images surface, yet there's a creeping melancholy to be found at the heart of it all.

The bottom line: Compelling

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