Sunday, 25 January 2015

Responding to Finding Vivian Maier

This post is my response to Diane's post about watching the film Finding Vivien Maier. It will make more sense if you read her posts here and here ffirst.

Dear Diane,

I am so glad you suggested this film. I watched it on my iPad in bed having retired early on Wednesday night while my Husband watched some tedious historical drama. (He loved it, the 'tedious' description is all my prejudice against the Tudors!). It's a treat just to make time to watch a film like that mid-week so that's the first good thing to come out of our joint project. The second is that it was a wonderful inspiring film.

You asked whether it made me want to go out and shoot street photos and whether my camera had a tilting screen to make it possible to do that from waist level. The answer to both is yes. So, I did go out the very next lunch time and have a go and the pictures you see here and very arrogantly) not Vivien Maier examples but my very first attempts at street photography. I learned that finding people doing interesting things in interesting places is quite hard! I am not at all sure I achieved it. ore practice and a copy of The Street Photographer's manual appear to be in my future,

I have to say that I tried the tilting screen but I found it easier and more natural to just have the camera to my eye and if anyone looked at me askance I just kept the camera to my eye as they moved past as if it I was in fact waiting for them to get out of my shot, or I moved myself slightly to a different angle as if I was simply taking multiple photos of a building.  I obviously got more confident as on my way back to work I saw this small girl who was giving her mother some trouble getting her across the road. I simply took the shot and then wondered if the mother who had noticed would be offended. Without really thinking I just bent and showed the little girl the LCD screen and said, "This is what you look like with a crying face look! Isn't that funny? Shall we take a photo of a happy face for your mummy?" The mother thought it hilarious, the child would not pose for me but she did stop crying!  

I took all these photos in colour and converted later in Lightroom and found that it made all the photos much better not to have the distraction of colour. I know that street photography need not be black and white but it is noticeable that it does tend to work best that way, don't you find?

But, to return to the film. I had several thoughts stemming from it:

1. One of the people in the film asked: what was the point of her taking the pictures if no one saw them. I think there must have been a point for her or else she would have stopped doing it. I am sure you could get into a lot of psychoanalysis abut her hoarding and was this part of it ,but I am sure the answer is simpler at its most essential level. She must have found pleasure in it. How often do we dismiss that as a proper reason for doing anything? Curiosity, fascination, creativity. No-one would say those were negative words and yet if you exercise them alone people ask what the point is. Odd isn't it? Yet no one asks why people sunbathe on a beach or go to see a film or paddle in the sea.

2. I thought it was interesting that the major art intuitions refused her work and yet an exhibition of it was widely successful. I don't think there is anything wrong with institutions defining what objects they wish to acquire. In fact it makes sense for them to have a policy so their collection is cohesive and so that their funders know what they are giving to. But the fact that the big institutions do not accept a person's work does not in anyway mean it is not of worth.

3.I thought that many of the photographs were interesting mostly because if what they showed about the era in terms of dress and housing. I suspect that many of her photographs would have been seen as mundane and ordinary  (except of course of her ability to capture a particular expression or moment.) I wondered if she knew that? Knew that they were part historical documentation and that their time had not come and would not until after she died? It made me wonder what there is around to photograph that is day to day now but in thirty, forty, fifty years will seem isolated in its time. Or alternatively, what there is that is typical of where I  live that in other cultures will seem different. Even looking at the houses and brownstones in the film made me know immediately it was set in the US. Do we recognise enough the scenes that are around us all the time that are not to be found elsewhere?

I wondered what you might say there was to photography where I lived like that. Fish and Chip shops was the best I could come up with!

So, have you ventured out with your tilting screen yet?

As for our next film, if people want to follow along, I have nominated Born into Brothels. it doesn't sound cheery but apparently its about an amazing transformation that having a camera can bring.


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