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New bio lets master photographer Vivian Maier tell her own story

Pamela Bannos says of posthumous photographic sensation Vivian Maier: "The purpose of my book is to give her story back to her.

Vivian Maier is one of the new millennium’s biggest art stories. The story goes that Maier was an odd, secretive, reclusive nanny who took thousands of photos that she never made public.

A man named John Maloof bought a trove of her negatives at auction, saving them from the junk heap, and has released them onto the art market, where prints fetch thousands of dollars. The documentary "Finding Vivian Maier" was nominated for an Academy Award.

One of Vivian Maier's most arresting street photographs. She's the subject of the new biography by Pamela Bannos, "Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife"
Vivian Maier
One of Vivian Maier's most arresting street photographs. She's the subject of the new biography by Pamela Bannos, "Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife"

But how true is the story? Why does somebody else get to tell it? And are legions of Maier fans actually being disrespectful by  looking at photos she may well have never wanted to be made public?

People visit the exhibition dedicated to late US photographer Vivian Maier during a press preview at Trastevere Museum in Rome on March 16, 2017.  / AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION        (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images
People visit the exhibition dedicated to late US photographer Vivian Maier during a press preview at Trastevere Museum in Rome on March 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2012, Maloof told Off-Ramp's John Rabe he feels a little guilty that he's selling prints, "knowing she could have some level of success while she was alive." But, he says, "What do you want me to do? I could just leave it in my basement and let it collect dust? I could do nothing, or get money to get this out there."

In the new biography, “Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife,” Pamela Bannos - a professor of photography at Northwestern University - tries to give a little control back to Vivian Maier. "The purpose of my book is to give her story back to her. I talk about her life through her photographs, and interleave it with what happened posthumously." She takes particular issue with the portrayal of Maier as a "nanny photographer," when in fact she was a photographer first, and happened to support her art by being a nanny.

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Guest host John Rabe speaks with Bannos about the book and its new findings surrounding the Maier's enigmatic life.

Guest:

Pamela Bannos, associate professor of instruction in the Art Theory and Practice department at Northwestern University and author of “Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife” (The University of Chicago Press, 2017)

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