This phenomenal corpus was only brought to light when an archivist happened to discover some of her negatives. Struck by the singular nature of these images, he unearthed more and more of Maier's photos till he ultimately became her posthumous advocate and agent (as well as the director of the present film).
Amazon / iTunes. Not on Netflix that I'm aware.)
I mention it here, though, because it's also a mystery not unlike the authorship mystery behind another great artist. Namely, Finding Vivian Maier asks but does not answer a fundamental question behind the whole story: Why?
Why would someone so clearly adept at taking stunning photos, an artist so singularly possessed, spend her whole life -- Emily Dickinson-like -- hiding her phenomenal talent and body of work? For paying work, Maier spent nearly her entire career as a nanny for various families mostly in the Chicago area. She would take her children with her on day trips into the city, photographing everything and everyone she encountered.
It's not coincidental, I think, that Maier also took to concealing her identity using assumed names -- a storyline in the film that comes out briefly in the trailer. It's not a tremendous leap, one suspects, to go from an artist who conceals her work to an artist who conceals her name.
It is further revealed that she concealed some darkness in her life too. Without providing any spoilers, I'll just note that Maier emerges from this film as an enigmatic, troubled and brooding figure. Was she disturbed by the mania that possessed her in her work? Was she shamed by the work itself somehow? Was she embarrassed by her related obsessive-compusive behaviors and neurotic tendency to hoard?
The answers are only dimly revealed. But I was struck by the similarly open questions one finds in the story of an author who seems also to have been compulsively driven to conceal his work and identity. In the Sonnets, the author bemoans his buried name (e.g. 72) and his tongue-tied art (66). But he's also drawn by the undertow of shame. ("I am shamed by that which I bring forth..."; "Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame...")
So what is the nature of the author's shame? For those who see Edward de Vere as a conflicted, bisexual man battling his own erotic desires (esp. in the "Fair Youth" sonnets to the young man), one might appreciate how the enveloping shadows of shame might darken his consciousness. Then again, some see the author's self-guilt more stemming from, in the words of Sonnet 127, "beauty slandered by a bastard shame." Concealed blood relationships -- royal or otherwise -- they argue is at the core of the author's battles with shame.
This post is not going to delve into that long-standing battle behind Oxfordian lines. But it may be worth considering this related story of an artist singularly possessed by his/her work, but who for whatever reasons could not reveal this work to anyone else.
Are the artists' feelings of shame related to their drive to conceal their work? The case of Vivian Maier, while clearly different in obvious ways from the Shake-speare authorship question, does present a psychological profile of a great artist driven to bury and conceal. To the point of self-obliteration.
Thankfully, in both cases, the forces of obliteration did not win in the end. The works survive, though many mysteries remain.