Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife

Pamela Bannos. Univ. of Chicago, $35 (352p) ISBN 978-0-226-47075-7
Bannos, a professor at Northwestern University, constructs a meticulously researched counternarrative to the public depiction of photographer Vivian Maier (1926–2009) as a reclusive Chicago nanny who moonlighted as a street photographer. Bannos argues that Maier’s work has been overshadowed by the unconventional backstory of how her photographs first came to prominence. In 2007, a real estate agent named John Maloof bought a large box of Maier’s negatives from the storage facility that 81-year-old Maier could no longer afford to rent. Maier’s work gained traction online after Maloof uploaded scans to Flickr, leading to a “Maier industrial complex.” In the span of four years, Maier’s photographs were published in five photo books, exhibited in galleries in Los Angeles and New York City, and were the subject of an Academy Award–nominated documentary. The book follows Maier, who died in 2009, from her nomadic and tense early family life to her early photography in France to her Rolleiflex work on the streets of New York and her secretive life photographing the streets of Chicago. Bannos’s biography is a vital contribution to understanding the historical relevance of Maier’s work and an important challenge to the way in which Maier’s work and legacy have been represented thus far. 30 halftones. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/11/2017
Release date: 10/01/2017
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