John Maloof, Charlie Siskel
Deft filmmaking and engrossing subject.
In 2007, while compiling a history of a Chicago neighbourhood, John Maloof bought at auction a box of locally shot photographic negatives.
He typed the name of the photographer, Vivian Maier, into Google and did not get a single result.
That the name now returns more than 10 million hits is surely thanks to Maloof, who worked tirelessly to sort through the detritus of an unnoticed life - not least 150,000 photographs - and bring a remarkable artist to the attention of the world.
The film that he and Charlie Siskel have made does not dwell on the tragic irony that the two years that elapsed between the auction and the first time he published one of the images online were Maier's last; he never met her, though the impression the film leaves us with is that she would have wanted nothing to do with him. But what he discovered and presents here is a photographer with a distinctive and original visual sense, located somewhere between Cartier-Bresson and Diane Arbus.
Maier's striking monochrome images, shot on a twin-lens Rolleiflex, are mostly street shots taken in Chicago and New York in the 1950s and 1960s, and Finding Vivian Maier, a deftly constructed and edited movie, gives a very good account of the work. The portrait of the artist is more problematic. The filmmaker tracks down people who knew her, mostly the former employers or charges of her career as nanny, governess and caregiver. But their memories are striking for their divergence - even the spelling of her name is contested - and often directly contradictory.
The film looks into a plainly troubled life, without uncovering it completely, which is how Maier - reclusive, secretive, eccentric, obsessive - would doubtless have liked it.
The case is not even conclusive that she wanted her photographs to be seen, but it is hard to regret that we are seeing them.
Excellent documentaries in recent years have examined the lives and work of photographers: Dorothea Lange, James Nachtwey, Tim Hetherington and Annie Leibovitz. This is an engrossing addition to the field and deserves seeing on the big screen.