Monroe Gallery of Photography sadly announces Tony Vaccaro has died at age 100
December 29, 2022 | Source: Monroe Gallery of Photography
Long Island City, NY -- Tony Vaccaro passed away peacefully on December 28, eight days after celebrating his 100th birthday. He was surrounded by his loving family: his son, Frank, daughter-in-law Maria, and beloved grandsons Liam and Luke. He is also survived by another son, David. Tony's wife, the former Marrimekko model Anja Vaccaro, passed away in 2013.
In late November, Tony had entered NY Harbor Veteran's Hospital for emergency surgery for complications from an ulcer. He recovered and attended the pop-up Tony Vaccaro Centennial Exhibition of his photographs presented by Monroe Gallery of Photography in New York City December 13-18, 2022. The City of New York officially proclaimed December 20, 2022 "Tony Vaccaro Day", and Vaccaro was feted by friends at a surprise birthday party at his favorite local Italian restaurant that evening.
Born in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, on December 20, 1922, Michelantonio Celestino Onofrio Vaccaro spent the first years of his life in the village of Bonefro, Italy, after his family left America under threat from the Mafia. Both of his parents had died by the time he was eight years old, and he was raised by an uncaring aunt and a brutal uncle. His love of photography began in Bonefro where at age ten, he began taking pictures with a box camera. When World War II broke out, the American ambassador in Rome ordered Vaccaro to return to the States. He settled in with his sisters in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he joined his high school camera club. His teacher and mentor Bertram Lewis guided him through a year of concentrated apprenticeship.
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. By the spring of 1944 he was photographing war games in Wales. By June, now a combat infantryman in the 83rd Infantry Division, he was on a boat heading toward Omaha Beach. Tony's D-Day craft launched on D-Day, June 6th, and was staged in the channel to land June 28 (D-Day +12). For the next 272 days, Vaccaro fought and photographed on the front lines of the 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 after the war, he remained in Germany to photograph the rebuilding of the country for Stars and Stripes magazine. Vaccaro was awarded the Purple Heart medal for wounds received in action in the European Theater.
Returning to the States in 1950, Vacaro started 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 more. . After the war, he replaced the searing images of horror embedded in his memory, by focusing on the splendor of life and capturing the beauty of fashion and those who gave of themselves: artists, writers, movie stars, and cultural figures. Tony went on to become one the most sought-after photographers of his day, 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 called him, won numerous honors and awards. These include the Art Director's Gold Medal (New York City, 1963), The World Press Photo Gold Medal (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 retiring in 1982, Vaccaro's work has been exhibited world-wide over 250 times and has been published or 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 Centre 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 tells the story of how he survived the war, fighting the enemy while also 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, the ways in which combat photography helps to define how wars are perceived by the public, and the sheer difficulty of staying alive while taking photos in a war zone. The film led to a career renaissance for Vaccaro.
In 2018, Vaccaro's photographs were featured in major one-person exhibitions in Venezia, 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 the Kunsthalle Helsinki presented the exhibition Tony Vaccaro: Life Is Wonderful, a selection of 130 images from his career of nearly 80 years. From October 10 - December 4, 2022, Tony Vaccaro 100! was exhibited at the Museum fÃ¼r Photographie in Braunschweig, Germany.
After surviving World War II, Vacarro recovered from two bouts with Covid-19 in 2020 and 2022. He attributed his longevity to "blind luck, determination, red wine, and chocolate".
The New York pop-up exhibition featured the premiere showing of the trailer for the new documentary film "VACCARO BY LA VILLA" by acclaimed and award winning filmmakers, Marco and Mauro La Villa. The film tells the 'Come-Back' story of an extraordinary photographer, artist, and orphan that was almost forgotten and not nearly given the much deserved due and recognition for a lifetime of extraordinary work.
Filmed over the last 5 years of Tony Vaccaro's life, "VACCARO BY LA VILLA" is scheduled for release in 2023.