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Finding Vivian Maier

pic 1 maier

The Secret Life of Mary Poppins – ★★★

Finding Vivian Maier is a straight up point and shoot talking head documentary about an American nanny and carer who had an fantastic eye for a great photograph. What makes the story so appealing is that in our modern age of uploading every image and thought to either Twitter, Instagram or Facebook it is very hard to understand how someone with such talent would want to remain anonymous. The one thing for certain that we know is that Vivian would have hated this documentary and the fuss it is creating.

John Maloof was looking for photographs in a local auction house for a history book he was working on and came across a veritable treasure trove of street photography negatives. Doing some investigation he discovered they were the work of Vivian Maier, an unknown artist who he sets about trying to find. He develops some of the photos and posts them online when he gets no assistance from any of the major art galleries. The response to the images from the online community spurs him on and makes Vivian Maier his obsession.

Young Sherlock Holmes: John Maloof

Young Sherlock Holmes: John Maloof

He soon learns that she made her money by being a nanny and carer later in life. We get a Mary Poppins like image of a stern but loving nanny who thought children should spend all their time outside on adventures. She would take the children on walks to the rougher parts of neighbourhoods enabling her to catch all the faces of American life. The great thing about the dead is that you can’t libel them which is handy for Maloof as more than a few of the children she cared for have an interesting story to tell. Maier isn’t there to offer a rebuttal but Maloof doesn’t shy away from the alleged dark areas of her life.

There is the question of whether this documentary should even be made given the lengths Maier went to protect her privacy. A flimsy defence is offered up by Maloof with the discovery of a letter to a post card maker in France which he feels means she knew how good she was and wanted her work displayed. This doesn’t quite sit right and there is no mention of how much Maloof is profiting by creating prints of her work.

The star are her photographs showing how she had the intuition to know what made a compelling photograph. This highlights the cheapness of the documentary with predictable shot compositions and harsh static interviews, the only shot of merit being the final one. However Maloof must be commended for his diligence and commitment to showcasing a fantastic talent and enabling the world to share in her brilliance.

Showing on limited release in Ireland since July 18th 2014

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