vivian maier 2

The story of Vivian Maier (1926-2009) is one that has fascinated the world of photography over the past few years.

Like many people in the UK, I was first introduced to her work and her story in the 2013 BBC ‘Imagine’ documentary, Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny’s Pictures?

That was followed a year later by John Maloof’s cinema-released documentary Finding Vivian Maier, which I (perhaps over) enthusiastically blogged about at the time, and was informed by his own role in bringing Maier’s photographs to public attention.

Now we have a 362-page academic study – Pamela Bannos’s Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife (The University of Chicago Press, $35.00 / £26.50).

As the imprint suggests, this is an academic book by a professor of photography in Northwestern University’s department of art theory and practice.

Wearing her expertise lightly, Bannos brings a readable rigour to telling a story that she argues is far more complex and nuanced than the world has been previously led to believe.

What is particularly impressive is how she weaves Maier’s life story with that of the media frenzy that surrounded the discovery of her work, moving effortlessly backwards and forwards in time between both narrative threads.

Given the original explosion of press about Maier in 2009-2012 plus the exhibitions, documentaries and photo books that followed, the passing of time has allowed Bannos to produce a text that reveals a fuller portrait of the New Yorker’s photographic practice and her life as a nanny that fed it.

What I’d forgotten until reading her unput-downable book is that Bannos was a consultant on the BBC ‘Imagine’ film and appears in a number of sequences within it, explaining her thesis, which several years on has benefitted from deeper research.

She also does a great job in placing Maier’s work within the established canon of photography, and explaining the complex issues of copyright and ownership rights surrounding her photographic images and films that even now are rumbling through the courts.

As the old music industry adage has it, “where there’s a hit, there’s a writ.”

My original post below has a link to the ‘Imagine’ film, but if you enjoy photography and a good detective story, Bannos’s book is well worth seeking out.

finding vivian maier







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