Pamela Bannos

(b. 1959; resides Chicago, IL)

Pamela Bannos works with old snapshots that she acquires from flea markets and internet auctions, reprinting and manipulating them to introduce new meanings or to reveal something that was not the discernible intention of the original photographer. In her recent series The Light (2007-2009) Bannos dodges out specific parts of the photographs to create glowing globes of light within the scene. Appearing like the elusive will o’ the wisps of folklore, these ghostly white forms are an engimatic presence that hold the attention of the people depicted in the snapshots. Alone or in groups, the figures stare at them through binoculars, point at them, gather them up in their hands, or dance around them in a circle. Formally, by creating new focal points, the bursts of light serve as a simple device to accentuate the lines of sight, actions, and spatial arrangements of the people within the photographs. Meanwhile, at the level of meaning, they transform potentially ordinary scenes into something extraordinary, even mystical. To an extent, Bannos’s pictures recall the practice of spirit photography in the late 19th century, which were attempts to capture the spectral forms of the deceased, however credibly, in a theoretically objective photographic image. Yet in this case, the luminous forms that spread through Bannos’s altered snapshots also have a metaphorical charge: prompting a range of responses from the witnesses, “the light” could represent the unknowable or the miraculous in human experience, or, given the fact that it appears only in outdoor spaces, the wonder of the natural world.

Bannos is currently a senior lecturer at Northwestern University. She holds a BA in psychology and sociology from Drake University, Des Moines, IA (1981) and an MFA in photography from University of Illinois at Chicago (1987). She has been recognized as an Artadia Awards in the Visual Arts Finalist; an American Academy in Rome Visiting Artist; and with an arts Midwest / NEA Regional Visual Arts Fellowship in Photography. Solo exhibitions of her work have been held at Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York; University of Notre Dame, Indiana; and The Photographers’ Gallery, London. Her work is included in the collections of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois; Illinois State Museum, Springfield; and both the National and International Archives of Polaroid Corporation.


Untitled, from The Light series, 2007-09Untitled, from The Light series, 2007-09
Untitled, from The Light series, 2007-09Untitled, from The Light series, 2007-09

Past Portfolio

In these pictures I am interested in revealing something that was not the apparent intention of the original photographer. —Pamela Bannos, December 2006

By sharpening some elements and blurring the rest, the pictures in Pamela Bannos’ series Some Untitled Pictures reinterpret snapshots found at flea markets and on internet auctions. In changing the focus, this technique shifts the relationships within the frame by emphasizing people otherwise caught on the sidelines or in the background of a scene. The accentuation does more than elevate the marginal, however. Whereas the original photographer was responding to a moment in the present, Bannos responds to an image from the past. That remove lends special weight to her selections, as if recalling ghosts and memories, foreshadowing later events, or perhaps even trying to change the past. Some figures salvaged from the surrounding haze seem to be safely preserved in time, while others seem all the more vulnerable for their isolation.

Museum of Contemporary Photography

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