Finding Vivian Maier

Obsessive John Maloof on his compelling documentary of obsessive photographer Vivian Maier

©Ravine Pictures - Finding Vivian Maier, released by Soda Pictures is in cinemas now

Text by Laura Bradley

"Being raised by just my mother who barely made minimum wage her whole life forced me to be extremely resourceful at an early age. Finding thrown out junk and reselling it at flea markets had become a skill of mine. If I wanted something, I figured out a way to make it happen, with a compulsion. In 2007, as I was writing a history book on my Chicago neighborhood, I was wondering how I would find enough old photos to illustrate the book and tried my luck at a local junk and furniture auction house. I bought a box loaded with negatives that never ended up being used for the book. However, I knew to keep them. I thought, “I’m resourceful. I’ll look at them later when I have more time.” Fast forward 2 years later; that purchase had unearthed some of the finest street photography of the 20th Century. I decided to make a film to document my journey in figuring out who took these incredible photographs.

The negatives belonged to a woman named Vivian Maier. I was given access to her belongings and tons of her odd possessions, so I started my detective work to figure out more about her. I wanted this film to follow the process of my uncovering Maier. The evidence that led me to a person who knew her and then another, and so on. But the more that was uncovered, the more questions that were raised. Would she like what I’m doing? Why did she hide her photos and her personal life from others? Who the hell is this woman? She started to seem like some mythical person.

My obsession drove us to compile a library of interviews and strange stories from across the globe. We found roughly 100 people who had contact with Vivian Maier. In the film, we let the people speak for themselves. I hope that this story comes through honest and pure, and does more than just uncover a mysterious artist but tells a story that changed the history of photography."

This is John Maloof, filmmaker, photographer and London, and chief curator of Vivian Maier's work (roughly 90% of her archive has been reconstructed, to date). Like the late photographer, Maloof is an obsessive and it is his dedication and careful piecing together of Maier's work and world that means that we are able to discover this previously unknown talent. Directed in collaboration with producer, writer and director Charlie Siskel, the film Finding Vivian Maier explores the fascinating life of the mysterious nanny who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that were hidden in storage and discovered decades later. "Maier preserved her work and left its fate to others", says Siskel. "Like Kafka's instructions to burn his writings unread, any wish she may have had for her work to remain unseen, either expressed or unspoken, was ignored."