Monday, July 14, 2014

Vivien* + Vivian* (for Vivien* or Vivian*)

I just saw a new documentary called Finding Vivian Maier, a title that might sound a bit generic (it seems that over a hundred films begin with the word Finding), but here simply couldn't be more apt. One shudders, in fact, to think of how close this astonishing shutterbug's entire life's work came to being tossed out with the trash—quite literally—and lost to the world forever. Vivian Maier, who was born in New York City in 1926 and grew up for the most part in France, was virtually unknown to all but a handful of people who witnessed her going about her daily routine, mainly the Chicago families who had hired her as a nanny. (I suppose it's neither here nor there, but I have to say that Vivian Maier bears a striking resemblance to the original Mary Shepard drawings of Mary Poppins!) Maier would appear to have been that somewhat infelicitous combination of incredibly talented and exceptionally shy. She treated her picture-taking like a hobby, but was also a prodigious pack rat who managed to amass over 100,000 photographic prints and undeveloped negatives, all of which she had taken in her spare time, and taken pains to keep hidden. There wasn't room to house them all in the little attic where she lived, so she started stashing them in storage lockers that she eventually stopped making payments on. It was only through the most thankful serendipity that a young history buff named John Maloof bid on a box of her photos at auction, and the search for "Vivian Maier" was on. Google yielded absolutely nothing for two years—it wasn't until Maier's death in 2009, accompanied by an obituary in the newspaper, that her real story could start to come out. Now, just five years later, Maier is considered by many to be one of the finest street photographers of the twentieth century. On the other hand, both the Tate Modern and MoMA declined to accept her body of work, which some critics apparently consider "derivative" and that of an "outsider artist" who needn't necessarily be brought inside. I would urge you to see this charming, fascinating, and revelatory film and then decide for yourself. Vivian Maier, who called herself a "mystery woman" and "sort of a spy," spelled her own name—when forced to—in a variety of ways. We found 49 cases of Vivian* + Vivien* in OhioLINK today, and 569 in WorldCat.

(Picture taken at the "Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer" exhibition in Chicago 2011, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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