***CLICK HERE TO A LINK OF A BIG SELECTION OF VIVIAN'S PHOTOS***
The nanny's name was Vivian Maier, and she looked after Joe, his sister Sarah and brother Clark in the Chicago suburbs for three years in the 1980s.
The family knew that Maier was unusual and that she took a lot of photographs. Her attic bedroom was kept locked and packed full of boxes and newspapers. Joe's mother, Linda, says that she hired Maier, who was in her 50s, because she wanted someone she could respect as an equal: "I liked Viv because she spoke her mind so I knew what I was dealing with. We could disagree. I could say, 'No, I don't like doing things that way.' I thought she made a good partner."
***CLICK HERE FOR OFFICIAL MOVIE TRAILER "FINDING VIVIAN MAIER"
But neither Linda Matthews nor any of the other families Maier worked for dreamed that soon after her death in 2009, their former nanny would be hailed as a key figure in 20th-century American photography. "The first time I saw her picture on television, I was stunned," says Linda. "I knew she was talented but it's astonishing what she made of it. Who could have imagined she could have left so much behind?"
New York, 1953. Photograph: © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection Maier left behind more than 100,000 images, in hundreds of boxes of negatives and undeveloped rolls of film, as well as some Super 8 home movie footage, audio tapes and trunks full of memorabilia. Some of this was auctioned when Maier, who had fallen on hard times, could no longer keep up payments on a storage locker. One of the buyers was an estate agent and flea-market enthusiast called John Maloof. When he began to print the black-and-white street portraits that were her speciality, he was captivated. Vivian Maier's life and photography became his passion and, eventually, his living.
It was years before Maloof could attract interest in Maier's work. The first time he searched for her name on the internet he found nothing and it was only by chance that when he tried again in 2009 he found a brief obituary. Spurred on by the warm response to a photography blog he put together, he began writing to museums and, when these approaches were rejected, put on his own exhibition. Now he has made a film, Finding Vivian Maier, which pieces together her life story and makes a case, heartfelt if not disinterested (as Maloof owns the copyright), for her as an artist of comparable importance to great names of 20th-century American photography such as Diane Arbus, Robert Frank and Weegee.
Maier shot glamorous women shopping and dramatically lit buildings. A letter found among her possessions suggests that she may on occasion have worked for a newspaper. But most of the celebrated images that now sell for thousands and hang on gallery walls depict people on the powerless fringes of society: African Americans, children, the old and the poor.
Her camera, a Rolleiflex, was operated at chest level, which allowed the photographer to maintain eye contact with the person whose picture she was taking. Many of her strongest and most memorable shots are of people staring straight at her.
So what was it like to be looked after by this remarkable character who described herself as a "mystery woman" and "sort of a spy"? Joe Matthews and Sarah Ludington, six and nine respectively when Maier arrived, and their mother, Linda, share their memories of Maier in three conversations that are intriguing for the different lights they throw on her.
"As an adult I would say she was a person who had a lot of baggage, literally and figuratively," says Joe. "It was so bizarre. I went into the attic maybe three times the whole time she was my nanny and the stacks of newspapers were taller than me. It was like walking through a valley of newspapers."
BY: The Guardian, July 18, 2014 - Susanna Rustin