Born in Manhattan, the noted American photographer Slim Aarons started his career in photography as a combat photographer during World War II and was awarded the Purple Heart medal for his work.
After the war, Aarons, whose real name is George Allen Aarons, moved to California and began photographing celebrities. It was during his time in the West Coast that he eventually shot a New Year's Eve photo in 1957, called Kings of Hollywood, which featured then-Hollywood leading men Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper, and James Stewart relaxing at a bar in full formal wear. This picture became one of the most iconic and much-praised piece of work in his career.
Since then, Aaron's work has appeared in magazines such as Life, Town & Country, and Holiday. Never using a stylist, or a makeup artist, he made a career out of what he called "photographing attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places".
In an interview with London's The Independent newspaper in 2002, Aarons said: "I knew everyone. They would invite me to one of their parties because they knew I wouldn't hurt them. I was one of them."
In 1974, Aarons published a picture book called A Wonderful Life. When it was first released, sales of the book fell flat. However, about 20 years later, there was a sudden interest in the book as well as his pictures.
A Wonderful Time is a homage to a now bygone era of privilege and exclusivity. Aarons would pop into exclusive resorts and enclaves as Newport and Palm Beach, Acapulco and Palm Springs to photograph members of high society, including Barclay Warburton III at the helm of the brigantine Black Pearl; Mrs. William de Rham’s dancing class at the River Club, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan; and golf-club cozies knitted by the Duchess of Windsor.
“I don’t think there’s any American designer who doesn’t have a copy [of A Wonderful Time],” says designer Michael Kors in an interview with Vanity Fair. Designer Anna Sui, on the other hand, calls it “the quintessential guide for good taste”.
At that time, rare-book dealers were selling it for up to US$2,000. Vanity Fair noted that interior decorators would leave copies open to a different page each day for inspiration, while top editors of glossy magazines won’t let it leave their offices.
It was easy to see that Aarons was not a fashion photographer per se. In fact, he was treated differently from big-named fashion photographers of his time. But Aarons had the eye for capturing natural images that depicted luxury in a fashionable way. His pictures were quietly changing fashion. So evocative were they that the objects in them became imbued with all that was desirable. Guest’s swimming pool became the swimming pool everyone wanted, and many copied it.
In another instance, when Aarons shot Peter Pulitzer wearing plain khakis, those khakis became the must-have pants. Fashion magazines began doing shoots that were inspired by those pictures and began to feature khakis in their editorial pages.
By the end of the 1990s, fashion designers were re-creating the Slim look. Photographer Steven Meisel’s recent so-called Valley of the Dolls campaign for Versace, featuring models Amber Valletta and Georgina Grenville, bouffanted and Stepford-wifeesque, looks an awful lot like Aarons’s picture of two women sitting poolside at Richard Neutra’s famous Kaufmann house, in Palm Springs. Although Meisel denies any influence, others proudly admit that Aarons’ images have become iconic touchstones for them.
To see some of his best work, check out Getty Images gallery. The American image and photo company has put together a curated selection of Aarons ' work which you can buy. They include the two pictures above.
According to the online gallery, Aarons was known for the positive portrayals he gave to the people he photographed and was invited to high-society gatherings for exactly this reason. His subject matter covered American and European society as well as nobility and both minor and major stars of the day.
For more information, visit the Slim Aarons Gallery on Getty Images.