August 23, 2017


14° C, Light rain

Full Forecast


Advertise With Us

Strange magic

Documentary shines posthumous spotlight on eccentric nanny, gifted photographer

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/4/2014 (1224 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Vivian Maier was a strange lady and she knew it. She duly, fiercely protected her anonymity as much as she could.

The irony of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, an inquiry into Maier's life and art, is that she did not want to be found.

On that score, she succeeded. She was already dead, at the age of 83, when co-director John Maloof discovered that the longtime nanny was also a gifted photographer. In 2007, Maloof had bid on a trunk containing thousands of negatives of the photographs Maier obsessively shot on the streets of New York City and Chicago. Shocked by the fine quality of her photographic eye, Maloof himself became obsessed with learning Vivian's story.

As luck would have it, Maier was also a hoarder. She kept receipts, notes, newspaper clippings, 8mm film and boxes of audiotapes, including her own narratives and man-on-the-street interviews. (Maier was a citizen journalist long before the phrase was ever coined, but alas, she never had a forum.)

Playing detective, Maloof simultaneously investigated Maier's life, interviewing the families for whom she served as a nanny, and mounted gallery showings of her art, enlisting photographic artists such as Mary Ellen Mark to confirm that, yes, undeniably, the woman had an eye.

The interviews with family members present a woman of pronounced eccentricity. After an early stint working in a factory, she cottoned to the notion of becoming a nanny because it would give her time to indulge her photographic habit. Sometimes, this meant she would take the children in her charge of "adventures" in the city, often to seedy or dangerous environs.

It's doubtful she took the jobs to indulge a maternal streak. When a young boy in her charge was injured in a traffic accident, Maier was more inclined to photograph the event than offer comfort to the child. As she aged, her behaviour became more erratic and her penchant for hoarding became more of an affliction.

Most curiously of all, she never made any apparent effort to have her work displayed. While she was alive, she was an artist with an audience of one.

Posthumously, Maloof is doing what he can celebrate her talent, putting her works on gallery display all over the world. The film is somewhat self-serving in that regard, because Maloof has a lot of time and money invested in establishing Maier's art credentials.

Fortunately, that does not distract from the enjoyment of the film and the sense of discovery that accompanies the sight of Maier's thrilling photographs. The film charges the imagination and compels the question: How many more undiscovered Vivian Maiers are out there?

Read more by Randall King.


Advertise With Us

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.

Photo Store

Scroll down to load more