A self-styled outsider artist comes into focus in Finding Vivian Maier, a striking documentary undertaken after one of its directors bought a nondescript box of photo negatives at a garage sale.
After looking at the work more closely, John Maloof decided the shots – mostly black-and-white photographs of street scenes – were remarkable and set out to find the woman who took them.
The photographer in question was a very private woman named Vivian Maier, who worked as a nanny and made no effort to share her thousands of brilliantly composed photos with the world.
Why somebody so clearly talented never officially professionalized her skills is one of the big questions framing the film, which keeps raising new ones as it goes along; what begins as a mystery about a talented unknown mutates into a portrait of a troubled woman with an unhappy past.
Some may find Finding Vivian Maier invasive, since Maloof and co-director Charlie Siskel delved into its namesake’s past after her death, but their curiosity is genuine rather than prurient; this is the rare example of a documentary about an enigmatic subject that doesn’t pretend to know all the answers.