Originally a photographer for US military magazine “Yank” during World War II, Slim Aarons (1916–2006) defined an era of American modernism through his lens – crafting a career “photographing attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places”. His knack for capturing the sun-dazed glamour and frivolity of the 50s, 60s and 70s is now a standard for top art directors, designers, decorators and stylists, more so since the publishing of his photo album “A Wonderful Time” (1974).
He gained entry to villas, yachts and chalets by becoming one of the crowd – using his charm and charisma to gain unrivalled access to the worlds of America’s jet-set, capturing some of the most intimate and candid portraits of the 20th century. Gary Cooper, Mick Jagger, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and other members of high society not only welcomed him but requested his presence and pictorial service at their events and in their day-to-day lives.
He’s a neat example of being friendly to get ahead in life.
Why I admire his work
Aarons’ oeuvre evokes mid-century America; each photo is a literal snapshot in time from this bygone era. Using the natural beauty of his subjects as the focal point of his work ensnared this golden era of sartorial opulence and exclusivity. The elaborate, picturesque settings effortlessly reflect lifestyles whilst remaining sincere, raw and un-staged.
This welcomed, yet voyeuristic, style not only shifts us back in time – it presents itself as a golden ticket to a holiday in a Malibu penthouse, a private villa in Tuscany or a mid-afternoon tanning session on a beach in the south of France.
They would invite me to one of their parties because they knew I wouldn’t hurt them. I was one of them.
Slim Aarons to The (London) Independent, 2002
Ninety-nine percent of my contemporaries kept on reporting about the miseries and worries of the world after the war… But hell, someone had to do the other stuff.
Slim Aarons on turning from wartime photography to society portraiture.