Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Finding Vivian Maier by John Maloof

I have now watched this documentary twice, once after coming across it on Netflix and a second time after inviting an artist friend over.  She had been trying to see the film for over two years, so I was glad to oblige.

I was immediately drawn to the photographs more than the mystery, although that soon pulled me in.  I thought the film was well constructed to parallel both Maloof's uncovering of the life of Maier along with the chronology of her life and work.

I have read reviews that dismissed Maloof as 1.  being too prevalent in the film (I did not find it so, and he was clear that it was the story of his detective work and 2. an opportunist trying to make money off of Maier's work (I find this sour grapes from people who wished they had found the negatives; Maier also spent years and lots and lots of money to do this work and get the materials, so he is just getting his investment.) and 3. a dilletante who doesn't know good photography and is trying to foist her work on the poor, victimized art world (please.  The art world has a lot of fraud.  Her photographs have a magic and pull with or without the art world's approval.  This is not Thomas Kinkade we are talking about here.  She might have been self-taught, but she was still good and understood how to create humane and lasting images.)

Not to say she wasn't odd.  That's the other side of this. One of the issues in the film is that she didn't print the negatives (well, she did a few) and must not have wanted them seen (she wanted her French compatriots to see them).  Printing photographs cost a lot of money and doing it yourself requires space, which she didn't have as a nanny.  My husband pointed out that she had the negatives, which may have been enough for her to know the photographs were good (and she knew they were).

I take it one step further.  I understand as an artist what it means to want to create art but not spend time promoting art. She wanted to create the photos, but perhaps the displaying, the promoting, the business, the marketing, were not for her. So just as her photos spoke to me, this tension did as well.

I do, however, question her ethics.  I really don't believe in taking people's photographs without their permission, and she was not concerned about those kinds of niceties.  Some saw her, some did not.  She says in the film that she is "a kind of spy."

For anyone interested in photography,  artistic expression, Chicago, or a good mystery, this is worth spending an hour and half.  It is slow in some parts of the beginning, but I did not find that a problem at all.  It made me want to find a book of her photos (she took hundreds of thousands of them) and just sip tea and look on a rainy day at a time past remembered in that luscious black and white and gray film that nobody wants to use anymore. 

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