Helen Ennis reviews 'Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife' by Pamela Bannos

Helen Ennis reviews 'Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife' by Pamela Bannos

Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife

by Pamela Bannos

University of Chicago Press (Footprint), $69.99 hb, 362 pp, 9780226470757

Vivian Maier has received the kind of attention most photographers and artists can only dream of – multiple monographs, documentary films, commercial gallery representation, extraordinary public interest, and now a biography. However, all this activity and acclaim has occurred posthumously. In her lifetime Maier’s mammoth output, estimated at 150,000 photographic exposures and hundreds of reels of silent movie footage, wasn’t known. She didn’t take photographs for public consumption, for publication, or for exhibition – she took them for herself. Photography was her obsession, but its outcomes came perilously close to total obliteration. Maier – ill, old, and poor – was unable to meet the payments on her storage units in Chicago and so, without her knowledge, the contents were sent to auction where small-time collectors purchased her undeveloped films, negatives, and prints. This alone explains her attraction; the mysteriousness of her origins and her secretive life as the ‘nanny photographer’ have only increased it.

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Published in March 2018, no. 399
Helen Ennis

Helen Ennis

Helen Ennis holds the William Dobell Chair in Art History at the Australian National University, and is a past ABR Fellow.  She is an independent photography curator and writer specialising in the area of Australian photographic practice. Her publications include Reveries: Photography and Mortality (2007) and Photography and Australia (2007). Her biography Margaret Michaelis: Love, Loss and Photography (2006) was awarded the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, and the prize for Best Book from the Power Institute of Fine Arts and the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand. She is currently writing a biography of the photographer Olive Cotton. (Photograph by William Yang)

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