Pamela Bannos: Vivian Maier's Fractured Archive

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.

Pamela Bannos, speaking in the BBC documentary Who Took Nanny's Pictures, referring to Vivian Maier's life and her posthumous story:

"This Vivian Maier story is filled with intrigue and secrecy and deception..."

Upcoming presentation for The Vernacular Photography Festival at Chicago's Comfort Station:
Ceci n'est pas un snapshot: Vivian Maier's vintage 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, 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, Jeffrey Goldstein sold his collection of 18,000 negatives to an art dealer in Toronto, Canada.

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

A critical appraisal to justly honor the woman and her legacy.
Finding Vivian Maier -- a recent Oscar nominee in the category of documentary -- is neither a fair portrayal of Maier as a multi-faceted woman, nor an equitable depiction of her posthumous story. It should not be considered as a documentary; the movie is one-sided and presents a skewed perspective.

It would seem plausible to “find” Maier and appreciate her life’s journey by being sensitive to the traces that she left behind, especially since John Maloof owns more than 100,000 negatives, prints, slides, and many hours of her motion picture footage and audiotapes. But Finding Vivian Maier’s filmmakers were more interested in creating a movie about a mystery woman, easily accomplished via interviews with people with whom Maier chose not to share of herself, and dominantly focusing instead on the confusion generated by their lack of familiarity with her and with her photographic work.

Since John Maloof established the “official” Vivian Maier online presences, his voice has stood in for hers. And although Finding Vivian Maier would have viewers believe that Maloof is the sole owner and authentic voice of Maier’s legacy, at least one dozen individuals around the world also possess her photographic materials, complicating an otherwise undisputable perspective.

This movie’s fast and loose approach misleads on various levels.

-- Vivian Maier was alive during the two years that passed between the time her storage lockers were auctioned for nonpayment and when John Maloof said that he Googled her name and found her obituary. On January 1, 2009, Maloof posted one of her photographs on his new Flickr account. He mentioned Maier by her full name and stated that he had “tons of vintage negatives.” Vivian Maier died on April 21, 2009.

-- Finding Vivian Maier opens and continues throughout with John Maloof presenting himself as the sole person responsible for the discovery of the significance of Vivian Maier's photography. But many people recognized the worth of Maier's work during the two years after the auctions. Several individuals share credit for stopping Maloof's ongoing sales of Maier's negatives on eBay and for convincing him of the quality of her work.

-- John Maloof was not present at the auctions of Vivian Maier’s repossessed storage locker items. He left an absentee bid at the final auction where he acquired a few boxes of negatives amounting to less than 20 percent of his current holdings. He acquired his vast collection two years later after another influential and unattributed source - the Flickr group known as Hardcore Street Photographers - spread the word that sparked international attention.

-- Maloof also does not credit Ron Slattery for his early help in putting Vivian Maier’s work online, and he fails to mention that tens of thousands of Maier’s prints and negatives are in others’ possession, thereby creating the illusion of his sole authority in telling Maier's story. Relatedly, Maloof refused to participate, and also instructed his film’s interviewees to not cooperate with the BBC’s Jill Nicholls, who, in 2013, produced and directed a Vivian Maier documentary for the UK television audience. That film, Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny’s Pictures?, was cut down from its original 70-minutes to the 50-minute The Vivian Maier Mystery, which is now available online.

-- In Finding Vivian Maier, John Maloof presents a November 1957 South American travel itinerary that he found among Vivian Maier’s possessions. In voiceover, while the focus is on various details of the South American itinerary - and with a Mariachi-type musical soundtrack - he mentions countries that Maier visited during her 1959 five-month tour of East Asia, slipping in a red herring: “She went to Bangkok, India, Thailand, Egypt, Yemen, all South America.” There are no photographs or other evidence that shows Vivian Maier ever traveled to South America.

-- Referring to Maier’s earliest known photography during her time away in France at age twenty-four, John Maloof erroneously compares negatives that he says are from 1949 with those that she produced on a return trip to the same villages in 1959. Another collector owns Vivian Maier negatives that depict each page of her U.S. passport. Maier was not in France in 1949, there are no known images from that year, and both sets of negatives in the movie’s illustration are from 1959.

-- The filmmakers misinterpret a letter that Maier wrote to a French photo printer and postcard publisher as a directive to present her work for her. Maloof has consistently downplayed and dismissed Maier’s work from this period in which she produced several thousand images that are in others’ collections.

-- Although Maloof acknowledges that Maier printed some of her own work, he criticizes her editing choices, suggesting that he knows better than she did which was her best work. In fact, the nature and ongoing result of Vivian Maier’s fractured archive is such that while Maloof’s film was in post-production, a woman who had attended the 2007 storage locker auctions surfaced with information about four 11x14 presentation portfolios packed with 150 exhibition quality vintage Maier photographs.

-- Early on in the film, Maloof states that his mission is to get Maier into the history books; yet he does her no favor by veering into her employers’ and former charges’ perceptions of her troubling psychological traits. In post-film release interviews, the filmmakers invited viewers to challenge the credibility of their interviewees’ testimonials.

-- Not only did Finding Vivian Maier’s interviewees clearly not know the woman in their midst, Maier, who is described in her later years as cruel and mentally ill, is presented alongside remarkable images that she made as an ambitious and talented young photographer, creating a confounding dissonance throughout the film. Romanticizing Maier’s early practice through selective editing misleads, and it should not be dismissed that she lived more than fifty years beyond her most celebrated works.

-- There is a gaping omission of the voices of the brothers who returned Maier’s favor of caring for them during their entire childhoods by assisting her in her final years. The Gensburgs were interviewed for the film, but later refused to have their contributions used to market Finding Vivian Maier. Nevertheless, vintage motion picture footage and photographs of the boys and their family were used in the movie.

-- In speaking with the sister and mother of a Vivian Maier employer, the film shows a large home in Chicago’s Wicker Park, falsely implying a connection to Vivian Maier’s employment. Also, the Southampton estate that Maloof commented on what a shame it was to be so dilapidated, sold last year for $18.7 million.

-- After the release of Finding Vivian Maier, a copyright challenge established that among other examples of publication (books) and reproduction (exhibitions of prints from her negatives) Vivian Maier’s work has been illegally shared and sold. The questionable practice of assumed ownership extends to this film and its ongoing screenings.

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?

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 at 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