Seven years ago John Maloof found himself at an auction house on the Northwest Side of Chicago bidding on a box of old negatives. He didn’t know what kinds of pictures would be inside nor if they would even be interesting. Finding Vivian Maier is his directorial debut about the journey of getting to know this mysterious photographer; a woman who was so private that no one even knew about her art.
What Maloof found was a lifetime of photographs from a secretive nanny armed with a Rolleiflex and an eye for artistic composition. Vivian’s photographs feel so personal and human it’s almost as if you are getting a glimpse into her subjects’ minds. But what’s interesting about Vivian is not just her innate talent but her oddities. Why would such a prolific and talented artist hide her work?
Besides her personal background, Maloof often touches on the struggle of getting recognition for Vivian’s work. The film makes it seem that he is singlehandedly championing her cause (and he probably is) but, at times, this tone feels a little too self-congratulatory. Besides, the people that “knew” Vivian think she would not have wanted the attention.
Documentaries often lay their cards out all at once, which can be dull, but Maloof keeps us engaged by creeping around dark corners and revealing new intrigue as the film progresses. This documentary definitely has a narrative that leaves you wanting to know so much more but also relieved that the mystery is preserved.