Finding Vivian Maier: A New Documentary About Chicago's Most Mysterious Street Photographer

The upcoming film unravels Maier's mysterious life and collector John Maloof's journey to piece together her past.

Photo © 2013 Maloof Collection, Ltd. — All Rights From the documentary Finding Vivian Maier. "She had no feedback on her work at all," said Maloof in an interview with Madeleine Brand of Press Play. "And most of it, she was not even seeing the photograph printed. Only in negative form. And a lot of them, like thousands of rolls, she never even processed. So she was the scene in her camera."

It began at a Chicago auction, the sale of personal effects of a storage locker. In 2007, 26-year-old real estate agent John Maloof spent $380 for a box of 30,000 prints and negatives of vintage photographs of 1950s and '60s-era street scenes. The photos were exquisite and mysterious. Maloof was intrigued and also had an idea of the historic value of this stash. In total, he bought some 100,000 negatives, 700 rolls of undeveloped color film, prints and cameras. An impressive body of work of an unknown photographer that spanned decades and locations: France, Bangkok, Egypt, Italy, New York, and Chicago neighborhoods.

A bit of sleuthing revealed that the mystery photographer with the master eye was a North Shore nanny, Vivian Maier. She had been a secret photographer for more than 40 years, from the 1950s through the '90s, and captured a view of Chicago never seen before. The images show the depth of craft, humor and timing, capturing what iconic, pioneer street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called “the decisive moment.” All honed and toiled in private dedication. Remarkably, while living, Maier never shared them with a soul. Ironically, she was alive when her life's work, held in the storage locker, was sold at auction for non-payment. She died in 2009 at age 83.

The discovery of her work became an international sensation, with exhibitions, private collection purchases, a book of the first finds, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, and now, nearing final cut, a documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier, directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel. Edited from reels of Maier's personal 8mm and 16mm movies, interviews and the photographs, Maloof unwinds the riddle of a street photographer that “rocked the art world.”

You can catch the current exhibit Vivian Maier's Chicago at the Chicago Museum of History, showing through summer 2013.  We're looking forward to the film's debut. Look for our follow-up story when the documentary Finding Vivian Maier is a wrap. For now, have a sneak peak at the trailer.

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