Icons / June 2017

Slim Aarons: The Life Aquatic

No one has better encapsulated the sun-kissed haute vie of the blue-blooded “splasherati” than Slim Aarons.

It’s not hyperbolic to say that our collective perception of jet-set-era Palm Springs, Capri, Marbella, Bermuda and Monaco are defined, in large part, by the work of American photographer Slim Aarons, who made his name capturing the lives of its enviable protagonists – or, as they’re inevitably called in 2017 parlance, the “splasherati”.

Less of us, though, are familiar with the altogether more gruelling work Aarons built up when he spent three years, armed only with a Leica and his best self-preservation instincts, capturing the polar opposite of Europe’s breezy post-war dolce vita: as a combat photographer in World War II, he documented the siege of Monte Cassino, The Battle of Anzio, the fall of Tobruk, the fall of Rome, and also – irony of ironies, given the work he is best known for –the dank realities of the concentration camps, having joined the army at 18 in 1935.

Aarons’ reflections on his return from war in Europe, where he was wounded, earned a purple heart for bravery and lost a twin brother, are understandable: “I owed myself some easy, luxurious living. I wanted to be on the sunny side of the street.” With those sentiments in mind, having opened a Rome bureau for Life magazine, he spent a happy period hob-nobbing with high fliers from the local movie scene – Fellini, Antonioni, Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale – then moved to Beverly Hills in order to specialise in large-format colour portraits of, in his own words, “attractive people in attractive places doing attractive things”.

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