Pamela Bannos: Vivian Maier's Fractured Archive


I have felt protective of this photographer who shielded her work from her employers; who refused to divulge of her personal history; who was characterized as eccentric and in more troubling terms. I have been working to fairly characterize Vivian Maier in the way that I believe she saw herself: an independent spirit.

And now the brother of this woman whose legacy always seemed to be at the mercy of others has been offered up for public scrutiny. Might he have an heir? Who will find out first? And then what will happen?

Here's the sad reality: This summer I learned that Vivian Maier's brother was mentally ill.
He spent years in a state institution and died there.
With a proper court order, it may be possible to learn if he had any children.

Pamela Bannos is an artist and researcher who utilizes methods that highlight the forgotten and overlooked, exploring the links between
visual representation, urban space, history and collective memory. She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally,
including in solo exhibitions at the Photographers' Gallery in London, England, and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.
Her research projects include an investigation of Chicago's Lincoln Park and the grounds of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Bannos has taught photography at Northwestern University's Department of Art Theory and Practice since 1993.

After appearing on Chicago public television's 2012 programs Searching for Vivian Maier and
The Meteoric Rise of Vivian Maier
, Pamela Bannos's research continued with access to
more than 20,000 of Maier's images including her earliest known work.

Vintage transparency from the Ron Slattery Collection, April 22, 1955, Central Park.
Ektachrome 120 fillm, 12 ASA , E-2 processed

Spolia Magazine, July 2014, An Interview with Pamela Bannos.

Two major developments have occurred since this interview, in which Bannos described details of Vivian Maier’s fractured archive.
In September 2014, a copyright challenge attempted to halt licensing of Maier’s images and sales of posthumous prints from her negatives.
Vivian Maier’s estate is now in the hands of a state appointed Public Administrator.
In December 2014, Jeffrey Goldstein sold his collection of 18,000 negatives to an art dealer in Toronto, Canada.

Pamela Bannos's office wall displaying her annotated France and Manhattan maps as featured in the BBC1 documentary,
Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures?

August 26, 2015, Who Owns Late Photographer Vivian Maier's Work? radio interview with Pamela Bannos.

August 20, 2015
, Who Has the Rights to Vivian Maier's Amazing Collection? New Clues Emerge, excerpts:
Maier's long-lost older brother, whom a Cook County court administrator and the owner of the majority of her work have been searching for, is buried in a New Jersey cemetery, according to scholar Pamela Bannos.

The legal case to determine Vivian Maier's closest relative has been in court for about a year and has been stalled until now.

This summer after studying his 1967 Social Security application and satellite maps of the area surrounding the town where he died in 1977, she followed a hunch and visited the state psychiatric hospital. It was there where she discovered his grave.

Bannos has felt protective of Maier, a fellow photographer, and has taken offense to the characterization of Maier as a mysterious woman who disclosed next to nothing about her family and life.

Articles from some of the world's leading publications have referred to Maier as eccentric, a spinstress, friendless and a hoarder. "My position has always been to try to represent this woman fairly and not get caught up in the circus of 'the mystery nanny,'" Bannos said. "I'm trying to do this story to represent her as a photographer, as an artist."

August 16, 2015, Ceci n'est pas un snapshot: Vivian Maier's vintage work, presentation for The Vernacular Photography Festival at Chicago's Comfort Station.

January 20, 2015,
Inaccuracies, falsehoods, and misleading bits in the Oscar nominated film Finding Vivian Maier.

A critical appraisal to justly honor the woman and her legacy.

August, 2014
British Film Institute, Sight and Sound magazine, Graham Fuller, "Finding Vivian Maier" film review, excerpt: The BBC film's most penetrating insights come from photography lecturer Pamela Bannos. Incensed by the dispersal of Maier's work, Bannos seeks to demystify through meticulous investigation the photographer's image as an unfathomable enigma -- "Mary Poppins with a camera" -- which is fostered by those less likely to cash in on the idea of a complexly gendered oeuvre that demands sociological and psychological analysis. In deducing that Maier was able to snap Salvador Dali outside the Museum of Modern Art in early 1952 because she must have been visiting a major French exhibition there (Brassai, Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, et al), Bannos insists she was studying her craft, undercutting the myth that she was a gifted oddball.

July 2, 2014, Spolia Magazine and Bookslut blogs, Jessa Crispin, An Interview with Pamela Bannos.
"Pamela Bannos is working on her own book about Vivian Maier, while also teaching at Northwestern and producing and showing her own photographic work. We spoke over email about Bannos's attempts to gain access to the full Maier archive, the rescue narrative put forth by the dealers of Maier's work, and why all of the emphasis on Maier's spinster nanny life." See the interview here.

May 1, 2014, presentation at Lawrence University's Wriston Art Cente
r, Appleton, Wisconsin, Vivian Maier's Fractured Archive.

April 29, 2014
, The Chicago Reader, Deanna Isaacs, Vivian Maier, cottage industry "We could get closer to the truth by studying the full body of Maier's work, Bannos says. What she's seen so far has convinced her that Maier was "already a master of the camera" by 1950, and consciously absorbed some significant influences - including the 1952 MOMA exhibit "Five French Photographers," which featured work by Brassai and Cartier-Bresson. How does she know this? From a photo Maier took of Salvador Dali outside the museum while the exhibit was running." See the article here.

April 24, 2014
, The Daily Beast, Malcolm Jones, Vivian Maier: Still Missing "She thought of herself as a photographer," Bannos said in an interview with The Daily Beast, and the task now is not to enhance the mystery but to strip away as much as possible, to know Maier as clearly as we can." See the article here.

March 2014
, BBC production, "Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures?" wins the Grand Prix at Montreal's FIFA, International Festival on Films in Art.

March 2014
, BBC production, "Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures?" wins the Royal Television Society's best arts documentary award 2013. Pamela Bannos, pictured with director Jill Nicholls and cinematographer Daniel Meyers, here.

December 17, 2013,
release of the 50-minute American version of the BBC documentary, titled, "The Vivian Maier Mystery." View or purchase it here.

December 14, 2013, screening of the BBC documentary, "Who Took Nanny's Pictures?" at Northwestern University's Block Cinema, with introduction by Pamela Bannos.
More information here.

December 5, 2013, presentation at the University of Teesside, Middlesbrough, England.

November 30, 2013, presentation with BBC film director Jill Nicholls at The Photographers' Gallery, London, England
More information, here. See the BBC film trailer, here.

October 26, 2013, screening of the BBC documentary, "Who Took Nanny's Pictures?" at Northwestern University's Block Cinema, with introduction by Pamela Bannos, followed by a Q&A. More information here.

October 16, 2013, presentation at Brandeis University, Women's Studies Research Center:

Vivian Maier's Fractured Archive: A Woman's Story. After receiving privileged access to 20,000 Vivian Maier images, including her earliest known work, Bannos elucidates how Maier's disjointed archive complicates our reading of her life and motivations. This presentation will explore a paradoxical life and its messy aftermath, and examine the emergence of Maier's lifelong passion through eyes other than her own.

June 25, 2013, appearance in BBC1 documentary film, "Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures?"
BBC One's flagship arts series presented by Alan Yentob returns for an exciting new line-up on Tuesday 25 June - fresh from winning a prestigious Rose d'Or award for 2012's Imagine... Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender. From Rod Stewart to Woody Allen, this new six-part series puts the lives of photographers, musicians, architects and directors under the Imagine spotlight, illuminating their lives and their work. Launching the new series is Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures?, the fascinating story of the woman described as 'Mary Poppins with a camera'.

June 24, 2013, featured researcher in online article, "Vivian Maier: lost art of an urban photographer"
Nicholls, Jill, Director, BBC One imagine. BBC, Arts & Culture, Knowledge & Learning Beta
Excerpt: Pamela Bannos, distinguished senior lecturer at Northwestern University in Illinois, says Vivian herself frequently cropped. She would have seen the image square in the viewfinder, and her composition within the square is unfailingly beautiful. Yet when she printed, she would crop the sides of the square to highlight the human drama in the centre of the frame. [cropped print example] We can't show the negative from which Vivian made this print as it is in the collection of John Maloof, who did not want us to use his pictures. (The print is owned by Jeff Goldstein, who did give us access to his collection, as did Ron Slattery.) Pamela Bannos calls this "Vivian Maier's fractured archive", which makes research into her work so very difficult. But you will find a square print of this image on John Maloof's website. The comparison is amazing - Vivian trimmed the sides to focus on the confrontation. ... In another photograph highlighted by Pamela Bannos, Vivian captures a down-and-out being taken away by police, while a well-dressed woman passes by. We love that juxtaposition of worlds. But Vivian didn't print that shot - it has been chosen for her. In another frame that she DID choose to print, she was close up on the old man at the police van, working more like a photojournalist than a poet of the human condition. In fact she cropped it to get even closer to the action."

April 16, 2013, presentation at the Chicago History Museum:
The Chicago History Museum hosts "The Reinvention of Vivian Maier", an exploration of the evolving story surrounding the prolific late photographer. Investigative Artist Pamela Bannos examines the prominent role technology and social media has played in the emergence of Maier's work and shifting accounts of her biography, which has led to the public's mounting interest in "Viral Vivian." In this cultural moment, amidst the growing romanticism with street photography and the immediacy of the internet, Maier catapulted into popularity, which has created a unique phenomenon - and plethora of fictional stories.

March 26, 2013, presentation at The Arts Club of Chicago:
Before her death, the massive photographic output of the very private Vivian Maier went up for auction and was split among three individuals. Two of these buyers have since offered Pamela Bannos full access to their collections. By extricating images from thousands of photographs, Bannos raises questions and offer some answers that demonstrate how Vivian Maier's disjointed and distorted archive complicates our reading of a photographer's life and her motivations. Central to the presentation are ideas surrounding the subjectivity of the archive, secrecy, fiction, high finance and the masses.

October 6, 2012, panel moderator of discussion at Chicago's Thomas Masters Gallery:
Pamela Bannos, photographer and distinguished senior lecturer at Northwestern University, moderates a photography panel discussion with master printers Ron Gordon and Sandra Steinbrecher and photography instructor Frank Jackowiak, who led a group of College of DuPage photographers to process Maier's undeveloped film.

August 2, 2012, featured in WTTW Chicago Public Television's "Searching for Vivian Maier." 11 minute documentary film.
Watch it here.

August 1, 2012, appearance in WTTW Chicago Public Television's "The Meteoric Rise of Vivian Maier."
11 minute documentary film. Watch it here.

(The opposite office wall.)

Contact Pamela Bannos.

© 2015 Pamela Bannos