Vi­vian Maier took a vast col­lec­tion of photographs across 50 years. Only now is her in­cred­i­ble body of work be­ing re­vealed, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - PHOTOGRAPHY -

Maier had worked for be­tween 1956 and 1972 as a live-in nanny to three boys. Maloof made con­tact and went to meet the brothers. The men had kept in touch with their nanny after they had grown up and had even paid for her apart­ment in the last years of her life.

But Maier her­self re­mained a mys­tery. “They [didn’t] know any­thing about her past, where she came from, even that she took good images. They knew she took photographs but they didn’t know what they were,” Maloof says. “The things they were telling me were in­trigu­ing: she was so pri­vate, she had dead bolts on her door. I was re­ally fas­ci­nated. So I asked, ‘ Do you have any other stuff? I’d love to go through it to get a bet­ter idea of who this per­son was.’ They said they had a locker filled with [her things] and were go­ing to throw it out be­cause it was almost all just news­pa­pers and garbage.”

Maloof hired a truck, loaded it up and drove back to his apart­ment, where he me­thod­i­cally sifted through his new hoard, lin­ing up all the scraps of pa­per, look­ing for clues. “I had so many re­ceipts,” he says. “And she col­lected so much weird stuff — po­lit­i­cal but­tons, cos­tume jew­ellery, there’s a lot of her mail.”

Maloof turned de­tec­tive. He tracked down 90 peo­ple who knew Maier — chil­dren she had looked after, book­shop own­ers, peo­ple who had em­ployed her, even a printer in France. It took over his life. Through his re­search and in­ter­views, he dis­cov­ered that she was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1926, to par­ents of French and Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian ex­trac­tion. She grew up be­tween New York and her mother’s home vil­lage in the south­ern French Alps. She and her mother left France to re­turn to the US in 1939, but Maier lived most of her life with­out close friends or fam­ily. She was a soli­tary and ec­cen­tric fig­ure who was in­ter­ested in trav­el­ling, pol­i­tics and art. She had a sense of hu­mour and a ten­dency to­wards the un­der­dog.

From the out­set, Maloof thought it was im­por­tant to doc­u­ment his re­search jour­ney. His in­ter­views with the fam­i­lies who knew Maier were fan­tas­tic ma­te­rial for a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary.

“I had to learn a lot,” he says. “I had never made a fea­ture film be­fore.” Maier was such a sin­gu­lar character in her long dresses, her coats (even in the sum­mer) and her floppy hat that she made a big im­pres­sion on peo­ple, so there was no short­age of anec­dotes.

Her story is told along­side her count­less images, from her do­mes­tic life as a live-in nanny to her trav­els. (She in­her­ited some money in the 1950s and went on a trip around the world on her own, cam­era — by now up­graded to a Rollei­flex — at the ready.) As well as her photographs, there are Su­per 8 films she made and even audio record­ings.

Maloof’s story adds another layer to the film, with him ob­ses­sively sift­ing through the ephemera of Maier’s life in search of the iden­tity of the pho­tog­ra­pher, who was rapidly gain­ing a cult fol­low­ing.

The film’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer was Jeff Gar­lin, the ac­tor, co­me­dian and pho­tog­ra­phy buff (best known as Larry David’s man­ager in the US sit­com Curb Your En­thu­si­asm). He had seen the first ex­hi­bi­tion of Maier’s work that Maloof or­gan­ised at the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago in

Vi­vian Maier’s sharp eye for the de­tails of

cloth­ing is ev­i­dent in this un­dated and

un­ti­tled pho­to­graph

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