on recently discovered street photographer vivian maier

59-1205Imogen Sara Smith at Threepenny Review:

Finding Vivian Maier investigates the case of a provokingly secretive woman who took thousands of photographs but kept them locked away, never showing or selling them during her lifetime. The documentary features interviews with people who knew Maier, including those who employed her as a nanny or who as children were her charges. They construct a fascinating, contradictory, unsettling verbal portrait of the artist, complicating rather than simplifying our understanding of her. It seems she was conscious of being a puzzle, even gleefully so: one speaker quotes Maier calling herself “the mystery woman.”

Vivian Maier was a strange, difficult person, and those who knew her have spent a lot of time trying to understand her. But when people in the film say, “Why was a nanny taking all these photographs?” or “What’s the use of taking it if no one sees it?” they reveal less about Maier than about common assumptions of what art is for, and who artists are. Maier’s photographs, to which she devoted herself rigorously but for which she never sought recognition, illustrate the paradox of someone who wanted to stay hidden yet obsessively documented her existence, a solitary outsider who could form profound, fleeting connections with strangers.

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