“Photographing attractive PEOPLE who were doing attractive THINGS in attractive PLACES.” — Slim Aarons
How does a young American go from serving as a combat photographer during World War II to capturing the international jet-set in their intimate and hedonistic habitat? By realising that the only beach worth landing on is one that “has a blonde on it.”
After photographing the atrocities of WW2, Aarons set off to California — and eventually, everywhere from the Amalfi Coast to the Bahamas. He became a chronicler of the good life, encapsulating the joie de vivre of the aristocracy and international jet set. He was a classic outlander looking in, invited into the world of the most private people to watch and capture. “You couldn’t help but like him” says C. Z. Guest, whom he captured at her Palm Beach mansion with an effortless air of glacial satisfaction, à la Grace Kelly in Hitchcock films. He was simultaneously an outsider and ‘in’ this society. An anecdote tells that when President Kennedy saw him, he rolled down the window of his car and asked, “Was the girl from your story about Lake Como really that beautiful?”
Aarons’s shots were more than old-fashioned portraits of the rich. His photojournalistic experience gave them an edge; they became still life portraits extracting all that is cool and chic about old money. There’s a stylish serenity that photographers today attempt to imitate, but to no avail — Aarons is unique. When flipping through my copy of La Dolce Vita, a coffee table book with his photographs from Italy, life becomes just that little more fabulous. I find myself unconsciously imitating the effortless charm that his subjects exude. Suddenly, a 9am backgammon game with a glass champagne by the pool doesn’t seem extravagant at all.