50's, 60's, Blind, Chicago, Children, Discover, Employers, Family, Finding Vivian Maier, Habits, Households, John Maloof, Life, Maier, Mother, Nanny, New York, Parents, Photographer, Photos, Requested, Scene, Son, strangers, strangersihaveknown, Tragedies, Vivian Maier, Wonder, Work
Have you seen the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier”? If you haven’t, run and go see it—it’s a fascinating film. Vivian was a street photographer in New York and Chicago in the 50’s and 60’s and took thousands and thousands of pictures of ordinary people, animals, and objects. She had the uncanny ability to capture them in moments of intense beauty or tragedy. But no one knew of her or her extraordinary talent during her life, only after her death when a Chicago historian, John Maloof, bought some of her photos at a storage facility’s auction.
Maloof was so impressed with her work that he went on a search to discover more about her. He found that Vivian Maier was not only a photographer—her income came from her work as a live-in nanny for several different households on the affluent north shore of Chicago. When he began contacting the families she’d worked for, he learned that none of her employers had ever asked to see Vivian’s pictures and she never offered to show them—even if the subjects were their own children.
One of the disturbing moments in the documentary is when viewers see that Vivian was taking pictures of a boy in her care right after he was hit by a car while the boy’s family was standing in the road next to him. The mother clearly saw her son’s nanny shooting photo after photo of the accident scene, but never confronted her about it.
Through Maloof’s extensive interviews with the now-grown children who were in Vivian’s care and their parents she worked for, “Finding Vivian Maier” raises questions about people’s self-absorption and their inability to see what they don’t want to see. Some of her employers even indulged her odd habits, like collecting endless amounts of old newspapers, knowing that she’d never get rid of them. She had so many piles of papers that her bedroom floors sagged and she could barely walk through the room.
She even requested that her employers put a padlock on her bedroom door and never enter it, and they obliged her. Did they ever wonder whether their children safe with Vivian? Were they that desperate for sitting help that they were willing to turn a blind eye? In retrospect, who was stranger— Vivian or her employers?