Those people that discovered, preserved and saved from oblivion what might’ve been doomed to be forgotten or disappear are remembered by history since mankind is deeply indebted to them. As it usually happens, by a sheer chance, a guy named John Maloof became one of those people. In 2009, while looking for material for his book, he went to an auction of old things opposite his home and bought the biggest chest for $380. The chest was full of negatives whose content was about the city of Chicago as a motive, which in fact was his primary goal. At first and after a quick scan, the content didn’t meet his expectations, so the chest was cast aside into another room. However, some time later, John not only recognized the value of the chest content, but after a while he got down to looking for and buying the rest of the material from the other participants at the auction. This is precisely the point where the two names banded together for the eternity, doomed to be always mentioned together.
Vivian Maier and John Maloof
The name Vivian Maier didn’t show up in Google searches, she didn’t appear in newspapers, books, she was unknown to galleries… simply, there wasn’t a single written record about her. Precisely that fact makes John equally deserving for the rebirth of Vivian Maier, since knowing how to ‘see’ a photograph isn’t plain and simple at all. I’m convinced John developed a special relationship with her photographs, and that requires great effort and complete physical engagement. Scanning negatives is an onerous task, but developing films is even a tougher one, since there’s no correction. He managed to save 100,000 negatives, 700 rolls of undeveloped color film and 2000 rolls of black-and-white from utter oblivion, not to say definite loss.
The initial spark for this text is my wish to somehow ‘make’ you sit down and see the movie Finding Vivian Maier. As a matter of fact, although the news isn’t exactly latest, recent events make this topic still up-to-date. Of course, where big money is, there are too many of those trying to get a hold of one part of the tasty cake, so the things ended up in court so that the court would decide who held the property rights to the negatives. Precisely that fact somehow motivated me to give an advantage to the better side of the story and write this piece of text.
What disposition Vivian Maier really showed is probably best known by those who knew her intimately. I say probably because as the movie unrolls, we realize they didn’t know her very well either, and plenty of them didn’t know she was into photography that much. If we on top of that assume something’s been passed over or thrown out when the movie was made for who knows what reason, then we must definitely approach some details with caution. However, we haven’t got a better record of her and her life, and in all probability, we’ll never have it. The movie unambiguously suggests Vivian was a very odd, sometimes even eccentric person, always with a camera in her hands. With all the features of a real photographer, it’s obvious she would always go out shooting by herself. After all, hasn’t eccentricity been a property of many artists?
What’s definitely important to say is that at the end of the story, Vivian Maier becomes noted as one of the best photographers of the last century. It’s certain Vivian was aware of her talent and the quality of her photographs, but one crucial question remains – how continuous would her work be and would the quality of her photographs remain high under the weight of fame? Did Vivian wish for this kind of posthumous fame at all, and how much, if any, did she think about it? While she was alive, she probably did think about it, but now we can only guess where her wish to show the world her work got lost along the way. After all, what’s a photograph if we don’t display it to view and critique? What’s then its purpose of existence? Maybe it was obsessive-compulsive disorder that drove Vivan to carry the camera with her all the time, or maybe it was simply true amateur love for photography. All these questions remain open-ended, and it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever get an answer to them. What’s important is that John Maloof managed to make two documentaries, write several books, and organize quite a number of exhibits. Whether Vivian and her personality wanted it or not, it’s all the same now.
Achieving the recognition of a photographer-artist, and for that matter all this fame she achieved posthumously, wasn’t a walk in park. What’s more, it’s quite certain this is the greatest professional success John Maloof will ever achieve. After all, is it bad? By choosing photographs for exhibits and monographs, John obviously clearly showed he was capable of recognizing what Vivian had molded for years into her own unique style.
And did I tell you Vivian was a nanny? Erm, take a look at the movie, I don't want to spoil the fun.
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