From documenting his world as a 21-year-old soldier in World War II and developing film in his helmet to fashion photo shoots for major magazines, and taking portraits of artists and celebrities like Georgia O’Keeffe, photographer Tony Vaccaro says he has had to adapt to the world around him his entire career.
“It’s amazing how the things we live with influence us,” said Vaccaro, now 94.
His most comprehensive exhibit ever, including never-before-shown work, will be on display starting today in downtown Santa Fe’s Monroe Gallery of Photography.
More than 50 photos ranging from 1940s Germany into the 1970s include editorial work from LIFE and other magazines, some of his work with O’Keeffe, and shots of famous politicians like John F. Kennedy.
According to Frank Vaccaro, the photographer’s son and president of his New York studio, this is his first major showing in the U.S. since 1992.
Sid Monroe, gallery co-owner, became acquainted with the Tony Vaccaro Studio in New York last year, sponsoring a small pop-up show with the big city gallery and working with his son to get an archive of work for a Santa Fe retrospective.
Though they could have mounted several different shows based on the various, multiple phases of the senior Vaccaro’s career, Monroe said he and his wife Michelle wanted to display a broad range of photos because, for a long time, Vaccaro’s work has been off the mainstream radar.
“This is a photographer who deserves to be as well known and become as much of a household name as … other photographers people can rattle off,” said Monroe. “His career was as varied and exceptional as any of them.”
In addition to the gallery’s opening reception this evening, for which Vaccaro will be present, opening weekend will also include a screening of the 2016 HBO documentary “Underfire: the Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro” on Saturday at the Center for Contemporary Arts.
The film will be followed by a Q&A with Vaccaro alongside LIFE’s former senior editor Dick Stolley. The documentary tells the story of his war photography that has become popular in Europe (in 2014, the Tony Vaccaro Museum was opened in Bonefro, Italy, his parents’ hometown) and which introduced Americans to photojournalism from World War II’s front lines.
“I don’t think there’s any other parallel, photos taken by someone who was fighting in action,” said Monroe.
With the show at his gallery, Monroe said people who have seen the movie can now discover Vaccaro’s other work since the war. And perhaps Santa Fe locals familiar with his photos of O’Keeffe can also get a more complete picture of his career.
Vaccaro said he’s looking forward to the show, as well as returning to New Mexico, where he can retrace the steps that he took with O’Keeffe nearly 60 years ago.
“I want to come back there,” he said. “I want to walk back where I walked with her and see how I feel now.”
The exhibit will be displayed until Sept. 17. Entry to both the exhibit and the documentary is free, although reservations for the film were required by June 23 because of limited seating.