News

The Secret Genius Photographer

Ace new film unravels the incredible tale of photographer Vivian Maier

In today’s digitally social world, the idea of people keeping even the dullest photograph to themselves, is, sadly, almost unthinkable. So imagine taking more than 150,000 images and then barely showing a soul. And then imagine these pictures being some of the finest ever captured on film.

This is the story of Vivian Maier, a mysterious nanny who’s being posthumously acclaimed as a street photography great. The chance discovery of her canon of five decades of work, by real estate agent John Maloof, and his quest to discover more about her, is the intriguing subject of a new documentary, co-directed by Maloof himself.

“I didn’t know anything about photography,” Maloof tells us.

“I was just looking for pictures for a book on my local neighbourhood in Chicago when I bought a box of her negatives in an auction. I slowly realised that I had something special.”

He did indeed: tens of thousands of incredible candid images taken on the streets of Chicago and New York, plus hundreds from her travels around the world. What he didn’t have was a clue who she was, so he did some detective work and discovered a contradictory, bizarre, but hugely talented artist – who rarely showed her work to anyone.

“I wish I’d had the chance to meet her,” says Maloof [Maier died in 2009], “but I think it’s best that this is happening after her death. I’m sure she wanted her work to be seen, but I don’t think she would want the attention.”

And it’s quite some attention, with exhibitions all over the world, including several examples of one popular social-media pose – the self-portrait – but, to our knowledge, none of sandwiches or her feet on a sunbed.

Finding Vivian Maier is at cinemas from 18 July

(Images: Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection)