Last week I was exploring London and stumbled across this little gem whilst walking in the autumnal sunshine. The Getty Images Gallery is London’s largest photographic archive, holds one of the greatest collections of photos in the world. For context, Getty Images, the head US company founded in 1995 by Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein, has a collection of 80 million photographs and more than 50,000 hours of film stock.
The current exhibition on display at the London gallery is Tony Vaccaro: From Shadow to Light. This is Vaccaro’s first exhibition in the UK in over half a century and includes photographs taken during his time serving in World War II, living in post-war Europe alongside those he took of celebrities, artists and creators for global media.
Born Michelantonio Celestino Onofrio Vaccaro in Pennsylvania, December 1922, “Tony” Vacarro, is an Italian-American photographer who is well-known for his photographs taken during the Second World War when he served in the US Army. Against orders from army officials, he smuggled his beloved camera into battle. He would strategically position his camera lens through a torn button hole on his jacket to take images. He would also salute with one hand whilst secretly pressing press the shutter with the other to capture an image!
During ‘down time’, Vaccaro would take photographs of his fellow Infantry members which led to numerous reprimands but after an Army Major expressed an interest in his work, Tony was allowed to continue with his photography; under one condition – gun first, camera second. During this time, he produced almost 8,000 photos and went to extreme lengths to produce his images stating: “When I was not on a night mission, I processed my films in four army helmets and hung the wet negatives from tree branches to dry.” Many of his photos were destroyed or seized by authorities so only 25% of them still survive.
Unfortunately the lighting in the exhibition meant that there were reflections on all glass surfaces so the photographs I took (below) aren’t very good but I have found the best online links to the photographs which are included in the photo caption:
Firing Line in the Hurtgen Forest, Germany, 1945
Upon being honourably discharged from his position in 1945, Tony decided to stay in Europe rather than move back home to the US to begin a careers a professional photographer. During this time, he captured life in post-war Europe; covering issues across Germany and Western Europe.
Kiss of Liberation, St. Briac Sur Mer, France 1944 – “Sargeant Gene Costanzo kneels to kiss a little girl during spontaneous celebrations in the main square of the town of St. Briac, France, August 14, 1944.” – Tony Vaccaro
With post-war America came a new age of popular magazines and celebrity; which Vaccaro took full advantage of. He travelled the world for 30 years, taking some of the most recognisable photographs of the 20th century; working with public figures from Sophia Loren and Pablo Picasso to Georgia O’Keefe and Hubert de Givenchy.
Top left: Picasso, Mougins, France, 1966. Bottom left: Marimekko Umbrella, (Tony ended up marrying the model at the bottom of this image)
Top right: Georgia O’Keefe with Cheese, New Mexico, 1960, Bottom right: Sophia Loren, actress, New York City, NY 1959.
The exhibition was curated by Shawn Waldron, a Curator at Getty Images, who worked alongside Tony Vaccaro’s studio to create this wonderful exhibition which showcases some of the finest photography I’ve ever seen. The humility and connection Vaccaro captures in his images is really special and his personal relationship with subjects is very apparent. The exhibition has just been extended for another month so you can catch it until 28th October. I’d recommend you make a detour if you’re in Central London before it closes.
Happy Museum Musings.