BWW Blog: The Need to Tell a Story
It is the rare occasion I can get to a film, with twin three-year-olds, but my friend Chris McKinley was in town last week and he was speaking at a showing of a documentary that he is an editor and associate producer on titled "Finding Vivian Maier." The showing was at the Brooks Museum, and I made the occasion happen.
I have known Chris since he was in high school, and though I am certain he would dislike me writing this, he has quiet genius. This film, which is most compelling, is further evidence of it. Chris frequently lends his creativity and disciplined craft to caring for artistic efforts of others. With this film project, he honors the secretive life of a gifted street photographer while also honoring the work of film editors before him.
You can see more about the film online by clicking here.
Vivian, the subject of the film, was a nanny for multiple families in the latter half of the 20th Century and died in obscurity several years ago. The extraordinary efforts of director John Maloof continue, to this day, to reveal what many believe to be one of the more extraordinary American photographers of the century. However, she never showed her work. In fact, she viewed little of it herself. She hoarded, and her idiosyncrasies, judging by those families interviewed in the film, left many with the feeling that she may not always have been in her right mind. The objective of the film is not merely to showcase her work, but to attempt to reveal the woman behind it.
However, it became apparent to me that the woman is in the work -- not unlike most highly creative artists who prefer that their poetry or their brush strokes or their actors speak for them.
Vivian's photos appear to have a hyper-awareness of living both within and without our world - a journalistic reporting, one that never demanded a proofing or screening or editing. Both her humanities, the one of care and the one of darkness or even brutality, are scripted in her photographs, recordings, and films. And for someone unwilling to speak her native tongue, perhaps her real name, unlock her bedroom door, or give out her phone number, she is alive and naked in her photographic reporting of humanity. There is her face, her shadow, her fingers, her reflection in the eyes and expressions of her street subjects.
She ultimately did not seem to understand and heal herself through her journalistic/artistic compulsions. Some of the basic functions of theatre, as created by the Greeks, but in this case, in black and white exists the need to tell her story in the surprise, depravity, deformity, sweetness, childishness, death, injury, aliveness, shadow, and glow of everyone else she happened upon in the world. Nor did her work with the camera seem an escape, or a way to cope with something that may have been tragic earlier in her life. Her living in and awareness of this world managed to partner uniquely with a third eye or intuition she had - something of our future, as with writers Henry Miller and Anais Nin.
This awareness of herself between the bookends of her life is compelling today's masses to both view this film and to see her work in museums and galleries. And so I am left to wonder the extent to which I or we should consider Vivian's life as one that was lived largely outside what we imagine to be our normal bounds. The reporting of her life currently is awakening the world to itself - and what now, indeed, is our world? Vivian captures a poetic expression of it, one that perhaps is so deeply personal that it cannot help but be living in our collective subconscious, then and now.
Thank you, Chris McKinley and Mr. Maloof for your tireless search, revelation, and your honoring.