Finding Vivian Maier's privacy

Have you seen the documentary about Vivian Maier?

If you haven’t, you should.

A strict nanny, but also a photographer whose works haven’t seen the light until a few years ago, Vivian Maier made thousands upon thousand of photographs during her lifetime.

Those works had been found and revealed by John Maloof who accidentally bought a huge box of negatives on an auction and found out they were really, really good.

He was curious and wanted to know more about the artists herself - who WAS this Vivian Maier?

He tried Google - nothing came up. Strange, isn’t it?

He had all this amazing work from a completely unknown photographer and decided to scan the negatives and try reaching for Vivian’s family and friends because Vivian herself passed back in 2009.

There came a surprise - she did not have any family left and not many friends either.

The people who remember her most are the kids she used to babysit and they've got both joyful and dark stories to share about their late nanny.

vivian maier selfportrait.jpg

Deciding to create a documentary about Vivian’s life, even though he’s never met her, Maloof sets out on a mission to connect the bits and pieces of her life.

He was granted access to her storage unit and found a massive pile of Vivian’s stuff like letters, her hats and coats, newspaper articles, undeveloped film, tickets, flyers etc. from the 70s and the 80s.

I won’t be writing a movie review here, but I’ll rather focus on the matter of privacy.

Wikipedia describes privacy as the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves, or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively. The boundaries and content of what is considered private differ among cultures and individuals, but share common themes.

finding vivian maier.jpg
finding vivian maier movie.jpg
findin vivian maier 3.jpg

With phone and computer hackings, privacy has surpassed being a right and it is now a privilege. 

Who does have that sort of privilege?

I assume that only a small percentage of people have the freedom to keep their documents private without leaving a trace.

Vivian was a very private, reclusive person.

She needed a lock in her room and didn’t allow anybody to come in. She was also a pack rat and her room was the reflection of a typical hoarder: chaotic, with stuff all over the place and so many stacks of newspapers that you could barely walk.

Now that she’s gone, the author of the movie has revealed all this information about her to us, the viewers. He has revealed the things that she kept in secrecy and didn’t tell anyone about.

In the last few years, we’ve seen privacy crimes committed - remember those scandals with nude photos of celebrities?

And is this much different?

Those leaks of celebrities’ photographs were meant to harm and embarrass.

John was fascinated by the splendid works of a photographer the art world knew nothing about.

He made sure to have the works exhibited and promoted, therefore promoting the name of Vivian Maier herself.

Would she have approved? And how much does it matter, now that she’s not among the living?

(Photo source  HERE )

(Photo source HERE)

(Photo source  HERE )

(Photo source HERE)

From one standpoint, it’s unethical to disrupt someone’s privacy, but from another stance, now we’re given the opportunity to enjoy her work.

The Egyptians surely wouldn’t have enjoyed anybody rumbling around their pyramids, yet hoards of tourists visit them every day. Many works of art had been hidden for decades and, once found, presented to the audience in museums or galleries.

Dedicating yourself to archive and exhibit in public places so many works made by an unknown artist, like Maloof has done, could be a long and nerve-wracking but, in the end, extremely valuable act.

We can learn so much not only about the artist, but also about a certain period of time by looking at paintings, photographs, sculptures and other works that emerged from it.

What is the point of creation if you keep it all to yourself? Have those photos actually been created for the eyes of others as well as Vivian’s?

I think I’ve come to an unanswerable question. I find her photographs splendid and I’m glad I can take a sneak peak into Vivian’s world and way of seeing things. 

The best thing to do is watch the movie and judge by yourself.

Let me know in the comments below what you think!
Was it wrong to publicly display all Vivian’s things? Is art meant to be enjoyed by the public?

This post was originally published by Isabella Bubola in 2015