We all have a story. We’re telling it every day, writing out the next chapter, next paragraph, next sentence by the things we do. We’re storytellers, whether we know it or not—whether we like it or not.
Some gladly embrace that role—wanting their stories proclaimed from the mountaintops and cherished by others long after they’re gone. And others? They hope their life story never becomes a best seller. If they could be the only author and only reader, that would be perfectly fine with them.
But it just doesn’t work that way. We don’t get a say in the matter, because we’re all contractually obligated to write out our story.
I recently watched a fascinating documentary—“Finding Vivian Maier”—on a somewhat reclusive nanny who covertly captured over 100,000 candid photographs in her life. Powerful images of weeping children, weathered men, and fashionable women. Meaningful moments of whatever and whoever she encountered while roaming the urban streets with the kids she nannied.
Vivian Maier was an exceptional photographer—one of the 20th century’s greatest—possessing rare skills that rivaled those of Robert Frank, Lisette Model, Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt, and other well-known street photographers. And yet no one knew that about her. Her photographs never made her a dime or got her any notoriety. She just took them, developed some, and kept them all to herself—hidden away in old boxes, trunks, and storage bins.
That was until 2007.
Two years before Vivian’s passing, John Maloof purchased one of her trunks at a local auction house. In it, he found some of the thousands of undeveloped film she amassed during her life. And Maloof’s curiosity was piqued. Who was this person? Was she famous? Why was she so addicted to photography? What else did she do? Maloof then became obsessed with discovering Vivian Maier’s story.
But here’s where I’ll have to leave you hanging. I don’t want to give away the whole documentary, but know this: Vivian Maier liked being mysterious. She asked questions, didn’t answer them. She kept things, didn’t give them. She liked leaving people in the dark about who she was, where she came from, what she liked, what she feared, etc.
And yet here’s the thing. As much as Vivian tried to protect her own story from getting out, she was actually writing it—chiseling it even—with every photograph she took. The things Vivian captured throughout her life were reflections of the things she loved and the things she hated, the things she enjoyed and the things she feared, the things she hoped for and the things she abandoned. Vivian’s photographs were really glimpses into her own soul.
So how about you? What’s the story you’re telling? What are you chiseling out and leaving behind for all of us to read?