This Friday, a diverse collection of images in the exhibit Tony Vaccaro: From War To Beauty at the Monroe Gallery of Photography gives Santa Feans a glimpse into the life of the 94-year-old photographer from scenes of World War II to commercial fashion shots, and beyond.
This artist’s lens has captured some of the most famous humans ever—think Sophia Loren, Pablo Picasso and Marilyn Monroe. But some of his first forays into photography were spent documenting World War II. Drafted at 21 years old, Vaccaro carried a 35-mm camera through the trenches of Europe and used innovative techniques to develop his film: Patiently waiting for nightfall, the artist-soldier used the tools available to him in the middle of a war. “I would go over the ruins of a village and try to locate where a camera shop might have been,” he says. “So, in the ruins I could find developer and the things which you need.” Chemicals in hand, Vaccaro used helmets as developing trays; developer, water, hypo and more water to rinse; four helmets in succession in the pitch black. “From Normandy to Berlin, that’s how I developed my pictures,” he tells SFR.
Vaccaro had a long and illustrious career in photography after the war as well, including time working for magazines like Life, Harper’s Bazaar and Newsweek. His work took him to amazing places like the Nile River in Egypt and to photograph fabled architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
But which photo stands out to Vaccaro as his crowning achievement? Georgia O’Keeffe, he says. He asked the painter to take her work outdoors. “It’s one of the great photographs of my life, yes—I have it right in front of me—she’s in profile, and all you have is black, her face and then the great color of that painting,” he says. “The greatest [memory] was Georgia O’Keeffe, and coming to Santa Fe, and it was just Georgia and Tony for about a week or more. It was superb, really.” (Maria Egolf-Romero)