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OBITUARY

23.01.2023

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Chocolate, red wine and determination: these were the things to which Tony Vaccaro repeatedly credited his long life; and while he was able to fully enjoy the celebration and accompanying exhibition in honour of his 100th birthday, the centenary photographer departed from this world on December 28.

He was born Michelantonio Celestino Onofrio Vaccaro on December 20, 1922, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The early years of his life, however, were spent in the Italian village of Bonefro, after his family had left the USA for fear of the Mafia. He lost his parents at a young age and was brought up by relatives. At ten years old, he discovered a passion for photography with a box camera. With the outbreak of World War II, Vaccaro returned to the USA, to New Rochelle, N.Y.. He became a member of his high school's camera club. There, he found his mentor, Bertram Lewis, who provided him with a well-founded training in the medium. In 1943, Vaccaro was drafted; and then sent to Europe by the US Army in 1944. Determined to photograph the war, he kept his portable 35mm Argus C-3 with him, right from the start. In June of 1944, as part of the infantry, he took part in the Allied landing in Normandy, and spent the following 272 days fighting and taking pictures at the front line.

Even so, Vaccaro was much more than a war photographer: after the end of the conflict, he remained in Germany, commissioned by the magazine Stars and Stripes to photograph the country's reconstruction. The pictures he took back to the USA, in 1949, offer a touching portrait of both the war and the harsh, but hopeful, aftermath in Europe.

The USA saw the opening of a new chapter in his long career. In the fifties, he started working as a commercial photographer for most of the largest magazines: among them were Flair, Life, Look, Harper's Bazaar, Quick, Newsweek, Town and Country, and Venture. He tried to replace the devastating images of horror implanted in his brain by the war, by concentrating on the splendour of life and the beauty of fashion, and taking pictures of artists, authors, film stars and other celebrities. By then, he had developed a preference for Leica cameras. He was one of the most in-demand photographers of his time, capturing portraits of countless personalities – such as Enzo Ferrari,  Sophia Loren, Pablo Picasso, Peggy Guggenheim and Frank Lloyd Wright. From 1970 to 1980, he taught photography at Cooper Union. Following his professional retirement, he was honoured with numerous awards; his work was presented in books and films, and appeared in many exhibitions. The most recent one was Tony Vaccaro 100! - on display at the Photography Museum in Brunswick, Germany, from October to December, 2022.

In November, he had to undergo a surgery, but he recovered well and was able to take part in the Pop-up Tony Vaccaro Centennial Exhibition in New York City. It was organised by the Monroe Gallery, which represents him exclusively. The City of New York officially declared December 20, 2022, as Tony Vaccaro Day. In the evening, his friends prepared a surprise party for him at his favourite Italian restaurant. Just eight days later, the centenary photographer passed away, peacefully, surrounded by his family. (Ulrich Rüter)

All images on this page: ©Tony Vaccaro, Courtesy Monroe Gallery
Tony Vaccaro, sitting on the wing of an airplane, during WWII, 1945
Eartha Kitt and Givenchy, Paris 1961
Defeated soldier, Frankfurt, Germany, 1947
The Violinist, Venice, Italy, 1947
Tony Vaccaro with Test Strip, NYC, 1960
Fun in Finland, 1965
Twin Towers, New York, 1979
Peggy Guggenheim, Venice, Italy, 1986
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