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'Vivian Maier' Zooms In On Nanny Who Was An Amazing Photographer

By Kenneth Turan | NPR
Friday, March 28, 2014

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Finding Vivan Maier traces the life of a nanny who left behind a cache of 100,000 photos that earned her a posthumous reputation as one of the best American street photographers.



The photographs of Vivian Maier first entered the public eye five years ago, and the art world was astounded. Her midcentury street scenes captured vivid portraits of city life. But it was difficult to get a portrait of Maier herself; she was almost unknown. Now there's a new documentary, called "Finding Vivian Maier."

Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN: Vivian Maier took more than 100,000 photographs over decades of shooting, but she didn't let anyone see them. Not only were there a lot of images, they turned out to be really, really good.

That's the stranger-than-fiction tale behind a gripping documentary that asks a pair of equally involving questions: Exactly who was this hidden master, and how did her work and her life finally come to light?

It started with a Chicago man named John Maloof, a second-generation flea market entrepreneur who has a kind of sixth sense about what's worth purchasing.


JOHN MALOOF: The auction house is across the street from my home. I found this box loaded with negatives. I won it for $380.

TURAN: Maloof eventually posted Maier's images on Flickr and asked, what do I do with this stuff? The response was thunderous.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There's one in particular that I bought, which I love. The composition is slightly off to me, and I think that's why I like it.

TURAN: Adding to the excitement was Maier's personal story. She had worked as a full-time nanny who took her charges on frequent field trips designed to give her more opportunities to shoot. Even established photographers like Joel Meyerowitz were impressed by the results.


JOEL MEYEROWITZ: As she was photographing, she was seeing just how close you can come into somebody's space. That tells me a lot about her. She could generate this moment, and then she's gone.

TURAN: "Finding Vivian Maier" is co-directed by John Maloof, the man who came across the photographs. If there was something obsessive about Maier, she is matched stride for stride by her equally possessed discoverer.

Yet, perhaps the most fascinating thing about this woman is that Vivian Maier remains, finally, elusive. We don't know a thing about what drove her, or even whether she wanted her images to be seen - or not.

WERTHEIMER: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. MORNING EDITION is here each weekday. Thank you for being here with us this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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