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Pamela Bannos

A Photographer's Life and Afterlife

VIVIAN MAIER: A Photographer's Life and Afterlife by Pamela Bannos, Professor of Photography at Northwestern and among the leading experts on the artist, chronicles the life of Vivian Maier, examining her background, her childhood, the fifty-odd years during which she took thousands of photographs that went mostly unseen, and the bizarre set of circumstances that led to her posthumous recognition by photographers, collectors, museums, and galleries.

To everyone else, Vivian Maier was simply a nanny - discreet, professional, practical in her demeanor, private, if not sometimes secretive, in discussing her personal life. She was pretty, but not in a memorable way, polite, but not necessarily friendly. Her one distinguishing feature was the camera around her neck and to those who knew her, the constant snapping away was just a hobby. No one ever thought to take it seriously, no one ever asked to see her work, and she never offered. Part of the reason for this was that Vivian, for reasons unknown, rarely printed the photographs she took - in a strangely halted practice she often developed the film without ever printing the images.

Immigrant parents who separated shortly after their arrival in America. An older brother with severe psychological impairments and mental illness, whom she never spoke of to anyone. A life lived in many places - France, New York, Chicago - but without a connection to any one place. A woman with seemingly no distinct origins, snapping photographs on the street in an era that still felt a bit ambivalent about the camera as an object (was it an artist's tool, or a threat to privacy and security in an age of Cold War anxiety?). Maier was an intriguing character.

She died in Chicago having never married and with no children of her own. She had been a nanny all her professional life, with very few, if any, close friends. The family she cared for wrote her obituary. And yet for a few months prior to her death, her images were gaining notoriety, selling on eBay and appearing on blogs after they were discovered and sold in an auction following non-payment for her storage locker. The photographs showed a unique vision - moments that felt suspended and timeless, iconic yet also oddly intimate. At the time, Vivian was in a nursing home and not aware of the growing interest in her photography nor the subsequent fascination with the details of her hidden life.

Interest in her life and work has only increased in recent years as her pictures sell worldwide and lawsuits swirl around copyright and ownership issues. The 2014 Oscar-nominated documentary Finding Vivian Maier by John Maloof as well as other film series and articles have increased her visibility. Illustrated with many photographs from private collections, VIVIAN MAIER is the first comprehensive biography of Maier and her art.

Pamela Bannos has been a Professor of Photography at Northwestern University for the past 20 years. She is considered the leading expert on Vivian Maier's life and work, and is frequently cited in articles featured in The Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Daily Beast, DNA Info, The Independent, BBC News, and The Wall Street Journal. Her research on Maier was featured in the BBC documentary, Who Took Nanny's Pictures. She regularly gives public speeches on Vivian Maier's life, both on local and international stages including The Arts Club of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Women's Center at Brandeis University, The Photographers' Gallery in London, and Shandong University in China. See her website at

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