Tony Vaccaro has survived an abusive childhood as an orphan during the Depression, the devastating Battle of Normandy as a GI during World War II, and a potentially lethal bout with the COVID-19 virus this April, at the age of 97.
The renowned wartime and fashion photographer attributes his longevity to “unquenchable determination.”
Vaccaro’s 80-year-career has earned him a place in the International Photography Hall of Fame. “To me, the greatest thing that you can do is challenge the world – and most of these challenges I win.”
Vaccaro fought in the 83rd Infantry Division in 1944-1945, playing two roles – a combat infantryman on the front lines and an amateur photographer who took roughly 8,000 photographs of the war. This work is the subject of an HBO documentary, Under Fire: The Untold Story of PFC Tony Vaccaro, and in the permanent collections of museums including the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
After the war, Vaccaro became a celebrity and fashion photographer for magazines such as Look, Life and Harper’s Bazaar. His famous subjects included Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe, Sophia Loren, Enzo Ferrari, Maria Callas and John. F. Kennedy.
During a photo shoot with Pablo Picasso Vaccaro says he had to trick him into relaxing by pretending his camera was broken and the shots weren’t real.
These days Vaccaro lives in Queens, NY across the hall from his son Frank, twin grandsons and daughter-in-law Maria, who manages his archive of nearly 500,000 photographs.
She believes he caught the COVID-19 virus by going for walks and talking to people in the neighborhood in defiance of doctors’ orders to shelter in place.
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