Here’s a favorite question I ask my film classes: Which would you rather do? Make a great movie that is virtually ignored at the box office? Or make a bad movie that becomes a blockbuster? Most students pick great movie, which is encouraging. The ones who opt for the money justify their decision, usually arguing that the money will allow them the freedom to make a good movie later. Sell your soul and then buy it back. Not sure the deal works that way.
Why I’m reminded of this. Last Sunday, the Chicago Sun-Times featured photographs by Vivian Maier, a recluse who died recently and whose estate was sold at auction. The buyer found thousands of photographs, some of them self-portraits, most focusing on Chicago street life. From looking at the photographs, I know how Maier would have answered my question. The pictures are heartbreaking in their intimacy and isolation, capturing subjects in the middle of living their lives, with halted breath, surprised, yet standing there as if they’d been waiting for just this moment to be preserved. The pictures are heartbreaking also because Maier never got recognition for them. And maybe she didn’t want that. But to think the photos were almost destroyed is sinful.
The article mentions that a book and documentary are forthcoming. If you’d like to take a look, the buyer and now archivist of the collection has created a website: vivianmaier.com.