Fighter with a camera: Renown photographer, who battled COVID-19, will celebrate turning 98 with a virtual show
January 3, 2021 | Source: Monroe Gallery of Photography
By Kathaleen Roberts
January 3, 2021
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. â Tony Vaccaro reigns as one of the few people to have battled both COVID-19 and the beaches of Normandy.
The photographer will celebrate his 98th birthday with a virtual show at Santa Feâs Monroe Gallery of Photography through Jan. 17, at monroegallery.com.
Vaccaro contracted Covid early in the pandemic â in April. He spent two days in the hospital.
He couldnât walk from room to room,â his daughter-in-law Maria said in a telephone interview from their home in Long Island City, New York. âHe just stopped eating and had no energy.â
Vaccaro survived, despite a 103-degree fever.
âI am a runner,â he explained. âIâve been running since I was a child.â
âPeggy Guggenheim, Venice, 1968â by Tony Vaccaro
Courtesy Monroe Gallery
Heâs also a fighter who carried a camera from the invasion of Normandy through the reconstruction of Europe, capturing some of the most iconic images of World War II. Drafted at 21, he brought his 35mm Argus C-3 camera with him, spending the next 272 days photographing his personal witness to the carnage. He fought on the front lines, developing his photographs in combat helmets at night and hanging the negatives from tree branches.
âNormandy to Berlin was just tough,â he said, âbecause you could get killed any minute. I was in the infantry and in direct contact with the Germans.â
After the war, he remained in Europe, covering the rebuilding of Germany for Stars and Stripes. It was in Italy that he heard the strains of a violin coming from a narrow Venetian street.
âI was in Plaza San Marco in Venice,â he said. âAnd I had an idea of going into the small streets. So I go in and there was a violinist playing, of course, for people to throw down money. When I heard this violinist, it intrigued me. I went into the tiny streets of Venice and donât you know, I had met him before in Rome.â
He captured his famous portrait of an American GI kneeling to kiss a little girl by accident. He came upon residents of St. Briac, France, singing and dancing in the streets after the 1944 liberation.
âThere were these people holding hands and singing a song in French,â Vaccaro said. âHereâs this GI who knows not one word of French. They put a handkerchief under the knees of the little girl. Itâs the symbol of a carpet for ladies.â
It was the Handkerchief Dance.
When Vaccaro returned stateside, he worked as a commercial photographer for Look, Life, Harperâs Bazaar, Town and Country, Newsweek and more.
His portrait of the art patron Peggy Guggenheim features a hidden joke. On assignment to do a profile, he followed her to the Guggenheim Museum in Venice. A statue by the Italian sculptor Marino Marini guards the entrance.
âThereâs a man on a horse and heâs naked and his penis was as long as half my arm,â Vaccaro said. âShe had this habit of whenever she had new guests, she unscrewed it.â
Guggenheim expected a childrenâs tour group, so she unscrewed the phallus and hid it beneath her cloak. Itâs concealed under the garment in Vaccaroâs picture of Guggenheim in the gondola.
âShe didnât want the children to see it,â he said.
âGeorgia OâKeeffe, AbiquiÃº, New Mexico, 1960â by Tony Vaccaro
Courtesy Monroe Gallery
Vaccaro met Georgia OâKeeffe on assignment for Look magazine with art editor Charlotte Willard in AbiquiÃº in 1960.
The artist refused to speak to him for five days.
OâKeeffe had been expecting a different photographer, one of her favorites, such as Ansel Adams, Todd Webb or Richard Avedon. Trying his best to charm her, Vaccarro cooked the artist a steak and fixed her broken washing machine, to no avail.
âGeorgia OâKeeffe at the very beginning didnât want anything to do with me,â he said. âShe didnât even look at me. She had just left her husband.â
âGuggenheim Hat, New York, 1960â by Tony Vaccaro
Courtesy Monroe Gallery
Suddenly, the topic turned to bullfighting. Vaccaro mentioned he had photographed the great Spanish matador Manolete.
OâKeeffe pivoted to face him. She never looked at Willard again.
Vaccaro still works and goes for regular walks.
âI am shooting, but not as before,â he said. âBefore it was survival. Somehow, I have an eye for whatâs good before I can click it. I have seen so much that it is really an instinct.â
As for Covid, he said, âI have an idea that the body forgets what it doesnât like.â
IF YOU GO
WHAT: âTony Vaccaro at 98â
WHERE: Monroe Gallery of Photography, 112 Don Gaspar Ave., Santa Fe
WHEN: Through Jan. 17
CONTACT: monroegallery.com, 505-992-0800.