"Finding Vivian Maier": The Accidental Discovery of a Master Street Photographer

In 2007, amateur historian John Maloof purchased a box of negatives at a Chicago storage locker auction for $380. Those negatives turned out to be thousands of remarkable black-and-white street photographs taken by a woman named Vivian Maier. Maloof and Charlie Siskel tell her story in their film “Finding Vivian Maier,” 

After buying the negatives, Maloof realized that he couldn’t use them for the project he was working on, so he put them in a closet. Six months later, after starting to take pictures himself, he soon recognized Maier’s talent.

Vivian Maier’s work is now being recognized for her artistic sensibility and as a chronicle of the time she was living in. Siskel says, "She was documenting class issues and had a particular interest in the disenfranchised and the poor. But she was also interested in women’s fashion and architecture." People knew that Maier was taking photos, but Maloof says, "nobody knew that she was taking street photography." Siskel adds, "We had someone tell us that they thought there was no film in the camera."

The filmmakers found that Maier tried to have her work printed at least once, but was unsuccessful. "She was certainly shy and private and she probably feared rejection, as many artists do."

The family that took care of Maier at the end of her life found a receipt for a storage facility among her belongings. They kept paying for the unit after her death, but were getting ready to throw out its contents when Maloof found them. The storage unit was full with a "truck-load" of Maier’s books, receipts, and mail. Maloof says, "All I had to do was sift through it."

In addition to the more than 100,000 photographs that she took, Vivien had shot hours and hours of Super 8 footage and made radio documentaries. Siskel says, "She was kind of a self-appointed journalist without an audience – without listeners."

“Finding Vivian Maier” opens March 28 at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema.

Vivian Maier self-portrait from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s "Finding Vivian Maier."
Vivian Maier self-portrait from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s "Finding Vivian Maier." ( Credit Vivian Maier courtesy of the Maloof Collection. )
African American Man on Horse NYC still from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s "Finding Vivian Maier."
African American Man on Horse NYC still from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s "Finding Vivian Maier." ( Credit Vivian Maier courtesy of the Maloof Collection. )
Man being dragged by cops at night still from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s "Finding Vivian Maier."
Man being dragged by cops at night still from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s "Finding Vivian Maier." ( Credit Vivian Maier courtesy of the Maloof Collection. )
Woman at the NY Public Library still from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s "Finding Vivian Maier."
Woman at the NY Public Library still from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s "Finding Vivian Maier." ( Credit Vivian Maier courtesy of the Maloof Collection. )
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