Still taking pictures in his 90’s, Michael A. “Tony” Vaccaro has captured a broad range of our world in an 80 year career as a photographer. Most of his half-million images have never been seen and are only now being discovered and are being shown exclusively through the Tony Vaccaro Studio.
Born in Greensburg, Pennsylvania on December 20, 1922, Tony’s early years were tumultuous shuttling back and forth between the USA and Italy. In1925, under threat from the Mafia, the family fled precipitously in Bonefro, Italy, which began a lasting connection to the country. In the months following his return to Italy, Tony lost first his mother and then his father. The family situation and the signing of the Pact of Steel between the Kingdom of Italy and Nazi Germany convinced Tony and his sisters to ask for their American passports and returned to the US in 1939.
By 1939, Tony is in NY, as he fondly recalls The New York World’s Fair (1939-40) was the most amazing and spectacular event of his youth. Initially he became interested in sculpture, it was there that Professor Bertman Lewis introduced him to photography. One day, he said: “Tony, you are a born photographer”, an illuminating sentence we now recognize, changing the trajectory of his life. By 1942 Tony bought his first camera, an Argus C-3. His earliest contact sheets demonstrate impeccable balance, journalistic integrity, technical innovation, and an eye for whimsy; all of which characterize his eight decades of work.
By September 1943, Tony was enrolled in the US Army. In April 1944 he was sent to England with the 83rd Infantry Division. Tony went on during World War II to shoot over 8,000 photographs, more than half have been lost. As a front line infantryman in World War II, Tony dutifully chronicled all aspects of war from the mundane logistics of food preparation and mail delivery, to the intense fire-fights and unspeakable carnage he witnessed from Normandy to Berlin. Included in his trove of over 2,000 surviving war images is Eisenhower’s favorite, the monument-worthy “Kiss of Liberation”; the transfixing “Last Step of Jack Rose”; and the sepulchral “Death in the Snow”. Such iconic representation of war has lead the BBC to describe him as tthe “greatest combat photographer of WWII”
In 1949 he went back to New York and he started a twenty-two year career freelancing for virtually every major publication: Flair, Look, Life, Venture, Harper’s Bazaar, Town and Country, Quick, Newsweek, and many more. Tony became a favorite of picture editors like Arthur Rothstein, who called Tony a “fantastic photojournalist, fashion photographer, general photographer, with exquisite taste and great technical ability. Tony’s specialty is versatility.”
“Il Maestro”, as the Italian press calls him, Tony has 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, Tony has been exhibited over 250 times and has published or been the subject of ten books and two major films. In 2014, he was inaugurated the Tony Vaccaro Museum in Bonefro (Italy). In 2015, at the age of 93, Tony opened his own photo studio in New York City, Tony Vaccaro Studio.
The works of Tony are in numerous private and public collections including The Metropolitan in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Library of Congress in Washington.
During a deeply varied career, Tony gained unprecedented access to many of the greatest personalities of the twentieth century: kings and queens, presidents and popes, writers and actors, artists and scientists. His work from month long travel assignments to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ireland, Argentina and Greece balance his fashion and celebrity portfolios and stand as textbooks of landscape and street photography. During this career he has met and photographed leading figures including Giovanni XXIII, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, The Eisenhower Family, Enzo Ferrari, Greta Garbo, Pablo Picasso, Federico Fellini, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’ Keeffe, Maria Callas, and many other celebrities of the second half of the twentieth century. Iconic are his friendships and storied of Alberto Burri, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.
Today, he lives and works in Long Island City. Here he entertains guests, oversees scanning and continues to take pictures and develop them in his dark room. Residing locally he enjoys playing with his newborn grandchildren, cooking spaghetti and of course making prints.