HomeWorld NewsSlim Aarons, the photographer who captured high society at play

Slim Aarons, the photographer who captured high society at play

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

Slim Aarons constructed a profession documenting the lives of the wealthy and delightful.

Working for publications like Town & Country, Harper’s Bazaar and Life journal, the late photographer spent 5 many years taking unapologetically glamorous photos of noblemen and socialites. Whether lounging in Italian villas, boating off the coast of Monaco or foxhunting in the English countryside, his globetrotting topics epitomized high society — and previous cash.

But based on the writer of a brand new book on Aarons’ work, the photographer’s motive was neither to rejoice nor critique the opulence he encountered. He was pushed by a journalistic curiosity about how the world’s most privileged folks lived, mentioned Shawn Waldron, who co-wrote “Slim Aarons: Style.”

“He was a reporter,” Waldron mentioned over the telephone from New York. “You have to think that so many of these pictures are created on assignment. He was sent somewhere to record what was happening at that particular place.”

Heiress Nonie Phipps pictured with associates in Biarritz, France, in 1960. Credit: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

The picture company Getty Images acquired Aarons’ complete archive in 1997, a number of years after his retirement. Waldron, who additionally works as a Getty curator, mentioned that solely 6,000 of the roughly 750,000 photographs have been digitized thus far.

At the time of the buy, Aarons was “sort of forgotten about” and “a little bit out of favor,” Waldron added. But now, some 15 years after his demise, consultants and audiences are revisiting and reinterpreting the photographer’s huge physique of labor. With social media giving as we speak’s jet-setters shut management over how their personal lives are depicted, his oeuvre provides a refreshingly candid glimpse right into a previous period.

And whereas Aarons moved with ease by way of the society’s most unique circles, he retained his objectivity and remained “very grounded,” Waldron mentioned.

“He obviously became close to some of these people,” he added. “He photographed subjects as they came up through society and then photographed their children decades later. These are long-term relationships… but he was also very (much) of a fly on the wall and always kept that professional distance.

“He was always going from place to position, however he all the time got here house to his little farmhouse in Westchester County, New York.”

Olivier Coquelin, who opened the first American discotheque, and his wife, the Hawaiian singer and actress Lahaina Kameha.

Olivier Coquelin, who opened the first American discotheque, and his spouse, the Hawaiian singer and actress Lahaina Kameha. Credit: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Style, not fashion

Aarons may have spent half a century surrounded by affluence, but his fixation on glamour may have been rooted in experiences of poverty and war.

Though the photographer always claimed to be an orphan from New Hampshire, a documentary produced after his death revealed that he hailed from an immigrant Jewish family in New York City’s Lower East Side. With an absent father and his mother in a psychiatric hospital, Aarons was “handed between relations,” Waldron said.

Still using his birth name George Allen Aarons, rather than his later moniker Slim, he escaped poverty by joining the army as a photographer in his early 20s. Serving during World War II, he honed his craft not at polo matches or pool parties, but in military maneuvers including the Allies’ ill-fated assaults against Italy in the Battle of Monte Cassino. The photographer later “made mild” of his experiences, however they stayed with him, Waldron mentioned.

“Lots of people who have been photographers in the struggle, both military photographers or struggle correspondents … simply type of caught with it. And Slim mentioned, ‘No, I’ve seen sufficient,'” Waldron said, referencing Aarons’ famous response to the suggestion he might also document the Korean War. (“I’ll solely do a seashore if it has a blonde on it,” the photographer reportedly mentioned.)
Kleenex heir Jim Kimberly (far left, in orange) talks with friends on the shores of Lake Worth, Florida in 1968.

Kleenex inheritor Jim Kimberly (far left, in orange) talks with associates on the shores of Lake Worth, Florida in 1968. Credit: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Waldron’s new title is the newest in a series of thematic books on the photographer, published in recent years. Focusing on the photographer’s interactions with the fashion world, its 180 photographs feature a host of style icons, including Gianni Versace on Lake Como and model Veruschka von Lehndorff doing the limbo in Acapulco.

The photos also chart luxury fashion’s evolution through the decades, from the formality of the postwar years to 1990s patterned ski jackets. But while Aarons did some conventional fashion shoots in his early career, he eschewed the genre’s norms. Never using a stylist, and often carrying little more than a camera and a tripod, he did not identify with the fantasy attached to fashion photography, Waldron said.

“Fashion images is about making a story and a typology and appearing it out … however Slim did not wish to do this,” Waldron said. “He was considering the actual individual — not solely what they have been carrying, however what they have been driving, the place they’d go to dinner afterward. It’s about all the completely different components that make private fashion. That’s what he actually related with.”

Herein lies what Waldron described as the difference between fashion and style — between the transient and the timeless. Indeed, Aarons appeared unconcerned about his subjects’ wardrobes or the trends of the day.

“I did not do trend,” the photographer once said. “I did the folks of their garments that grew to become the trend.”

Slim Aarons: Style,” written by Shawn Waldron and Kate Betts, and printed by Abrams Books, is on the market now.


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