Monroe Gallery of Photography : Tony Vaccaro : L’Exposition du Centenaire

Today, December 20, is the birthday of Tony Vaccaro. 100 years ! The Monroe Gallery of Photography celebrates this milestone with two exhibitions, a pop-up in New York which ended this weekend and a second exhibition at their gallery in Santa Fe which is on view until January 15, 2023.

Vaccaro is known for his World War II photographs, which were the subject of a 2016 HBO documentary, and his editorial work for Life, Look, Newsweek, Vanity Fair and countless other publications. The exhibitions coincide with Tony Vaccaro 100 ! on display at the Museum für Photographie in Braunschweig, Germany. In both places, Tony Vaccaro: The Centennial Exhibition juxtaposes the living legend’s powerful images of war with the lyrical photographs of mid-century fashion, film and pop culture that came later. Vaccaro will be present for a reception in New York.

More than two dozen photographs dating from 1944-1979 are on display. From the battlefields of Europe to the rooftops of Manhattan, Vaccaro is known for his sensibility derived from early struggles as an orphan in Italy. After the war, he replaced the burning images of horror etched in his memory, focusing on the splendor of life and capturing the beauty of fashion and those who gave themselves: artists, writers, movie stars and cultural figures. From a photograph of a soldier running in the 1944 Battle of the Bulge to a shot of actress Gwen Verdon swinging in a hammock once morest a New York skyline, the exhibition illustrates Vaccaro’s will to live once morest all odds. and advancing the power of beauty. Several never-before-seen photographs will be on display: a 1951 image of a multitude of beautiful women surrounding one of them in a pink dress on a balcony, a 1968 photo of Vaccaro holding a test strip during a photo shoot and a bedtime portrait of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1979.

As Vaccaro approaches his 100th birthday on December 20, 2022, he has survived two bouts of Covid and is one of the few people alive who can claim to have survived the Battle of Normandy and Covid. He attributes his longevity to “blind luck, red wine and determination”.

“For me, the best thing you can do is challenge the world,” Vaccaro said. “And most of those challenges, I win them. That’s what keeps me going.”

About Tony Vaccaro

Born in Greensburg, Pennsylvania on December 20, 1922, Michelantonio Celestino Onofrio Vaccaro spent the early years of his life in the village of Bonefro, Italy, following his family left America under threat from the Mafia. Both of his parents died when he was eight, and he was raised by an indifferent aunt and a brutal uncle. His love of photography started in Bonefro where, at the age of ten, he started taking pictures with a compact camera. When World War II breaks out, the American ambassador in Rome orders Vaccaro to return to the United States. He settled with his sisters in New Rochelle, New York, where he joined his high school camera club. His teacher and mentor Bertram Lewis guided him through a year of concentrated learning.

A year later, at the age of 21, Vaccaro was drafted into the war. He was determined to photograph the war and had his portable 35mm Argus C-3 with him from the start. In the spring of 1944, he photographed war games in Wales. In June, now a combat infantryman in the 83rd Infantry Division, he was on a boat heading for Omaha Beach, six days following the first Normandy landings. For the next 272 days, Vaccaro fought and photographed on the front lines of war. He entered Germany in December 1944, as a private in the Intelligence Platoon, and was tasked with going behind enemy lines at night. In the years following the war, he stayed in Germany to photograph the country’s reconstruction for Stars and Stripes magazine.

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Returning to the United States in 1950, Vacarro began his career as a commercial photographer, eventually working for virtually every major publication: Flair, Life, Look, Harper’s Bazaar, Quick, Newsweek, Town and Country, Venture, and many others. Tony became one of the most sought following photographers of his time, photographing everyone from Enzo Ferrari and Sophia Loren to Pablo Picasso, Peggy Guggenheim and Frank Lloyd Wright. From 1970 to 1980, he taught photography at Cooper Union.

“Il Maestro”, as the Italian press calls him, has won numerous honors and awards. Notably the Gold Medal for Artistic Directors (New York, 1963), the Gold Medal World Press Photo (The Hague, 1969), the Legion of Honor (Paris, 1994), the Medal of Honor (Luxembourg, 2002), Das Verdienstkreuz (Berlin, 2004) and the Minerva d’Oro (Pescara, 2014).

Since his retirement in 1982, Vaccaro’s work has been exhibited worldwide more than 250 times and has been published and been the subject of ten books and two major films. In 2014, the Museo Foto Tony Vaccaro was inaugurated in Bonefro, Italy.

Vaccaro’s works are in numerous private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, the Center Pompidou in Paris, and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

In 2016, HBO Films premiered Under Fire: The Untold Story of Private First Class Tony Vaccaro. The film chronicles how he survived the war, fighting the enemy while documenting his experience at great risk, developing his photos in combat helmets at night and hanging the negatives from tree branches. The film also encompasses a wide range of contemporary issues regarding combat photography, such as the ethical challenges of witnessing and recording conflict, how combat photography helps define how wars are viewed by the audience, and the sheer difficulty of staying alive while taking pictures in a war zone. The film led to a career revival for Vaccaro.

In 2018, Vaccaro’s photographs were featured in major solo exhibitions in Venice, Italy; Potsdam, Germany; London, England; and Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 2019, he was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Mo. In 2021, Kunsthalle Helsinki presented the exhibition Tony Vaccaro: Life Is Wonderful, a selection of 130 images from his career of nearly 80 year.

Tony Vaccaro: The Centennial Exhibition
Until January 15, 2023
Monroe Gallery of Photography
112 Don Gaspar, Santa Fe, New Mexico

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