Documentary Finding Vivian Maier follows the recent discovery of photographer Vivian Maier—described as “part Mary Poppins, part Weegee”—and her exceptional body of work. The film has received quite a bit of attention since its March release; what people seem to find in Finding Vivian Maier is an affinity for the artist, or more accurately the photographs she took (which, as it happens, were often of herself). The public would never know Maier personally because her fame came after her death. The film asks: would she have it any other way?
The Brooks found a kinship in the film as well: in production. Memphis-born Chris McKinley is an editor and associate producer of Finding Vivian Maier, and he was kind enough to oblige us with an interview. New Brooks blogger Natalie Higdon provides the Q & A below. If you enjoy the interview, please welcome her by sharing this post with friends.
Chris McKinley, Editor and Associate Producer of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, chats with us about his involvement with the film, why choosing a favorite Vivian Maier photograph is impossible, and what screening this film at the Brooks means to him.
Q: How did you “find” Vivian Maier?
I joined the project after it was underway. I was editing a TV show for one of the documentary’s directors, Charlie Siskel. He told me about Vivian Maier, John Maloof’s discovery of her work, and the film, and I was really intrigued. Then he showed me her photos and I was blown away. It wasn’t a tough call to be involved if they wanted me. Basically, I was pretty lucky.
Q: What is it about Vivian’s work that you think resonates with so many people today?
It’s tough to even say why I connect with it, let alone why others do. I just know that when I saw the photos for the first time I said, “WHOA.” For me her stuff feels really immediate and fresh even after being locked away for decades.
To paraphrase what photographer Joel Meyerowitz says more eloquently in the movie: there’s something about Vivian’s work that seems primary. It doesn’t feel imitative. She’s doing her own thing her own way and you feel there’s a definite point of view there.
Q: What did you learn about Vivian while working on this documentary?
Something I thought was interesting, and that I think we can all relate to is Vivian Maier’s remarkable hit rate. That is to say, when you look at her contact sheets she took one great and unique picture after another. It’s so easy today for amateur or even professional photographers to fire off ten shots of a moment and hope they come away with something good. She shot with a Rolleiflex with 12 pictures to a roll and rarely took more than one of any subject.
We also dug up some documents that show how truly passionate she was about her craft, and that she was proud of her work despite keeping it hidden. But it’s more fun to see that stuff as it plays in the movie, so I won’t spoil it.
Q: Vivian passed away in 2009, which makes all the recent recognition for her work a bit bittersweet. She was also known to be a very private person. What do you think she would think of her newfound notoriety?
Yeah, it’s a shame she isn’t here to see it all happen and more importantly to help curate her own work. Personally I think John’s done a really responsible and creative job of putting her work into the world. But I wonder what it’d be like if, in some alternate universe, they could collaborate.
Based on talking with people who knew her, I think it’s safe to say she wouldn’t like the attention. But what I think is hard to say is exactly why she wouldn’t like it. I don’t think not liking attention necessarily means she wouldn’t have wanted her work seen. Doing the work was her passion. Maybe, in her mind, the subsequent steps to get it out there just didn’t compute. I do wonder how she would fit into today’s world where we all curate our own online profiles and seem to seek more and more validation just for doing things we love to do. I’d love to ask Vivian her thoughts on Facebook and Instagram. (Hello, by the way, to anyone who linked to this from my Facebook page)
Q: Do you have a favorite Vivian Maier photograph?
No way I could pick just one. It’s crazy how diverse her subject matter was. And that’s something I think is fun about her body of work: a fantastic shot of a child in a rich suburb can hang right next to a gritty night shot from the inner city. And those photos aren’t from different periods of her life. It’s possible she took them within the same week, if not on the same day. Seriously, how could anybody pick just one?
Q; You were born and raised in Memphis – what does having this film’s Memphis debut at the Brooks mean to you?
I’m excited that the film is playing at the Brooks Museum. I’ve done my share of wandering through the halls there, and I think it’s fun to think it’s showing at a place that, a while back, I visited on a school field trip. I hope everyone really enjoys it.
Finding Vivian Maier screens at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art on June 12 at 7 pm.