Celebrity and high society photographer George Allen "Slim" Aarons was born in Manhattan on October 29, 1916, but spent much of his childhood in North Conway, New Hampshire. He enlisted in the Army during World War II, and became an accomplished wartime photographer. Awarded the Purple Heart, Mr. Aarons later joked that he learned from his combat experiences that the only beach he wanted to land on was "decorated with beautiful, seminude girls tanning in a tranquil sun." This perhaps explains his conscious decision to photograph beautiful people in picturesque settings after the war.
Accompanied by his friend, cartoonist Bill Mauldin, Slim Aarons set out for Hollywood, where he established a quick and lasting rapport with the leading movie stars of the day. A frequent contributor to Town & Country, Holiday, and Life, he focused his lens on the American and European jet set. Mr. Aarons was a stickler for simplicity and refused to employ artificial lighting or makeup artists. He allowed the subjects and the light of their natural surroundings speak for themselves. His subjects trusted his judgment and granted him and his cameras unprecedented access into their personal lives. Mr. Aarons summed up his approach to photography as, "Attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places." He became so recognizable in the tightly-knit Hollywood community that when James Stewart was approached by a fan for an autograph, he joked, "No, I am Slim Aarons." It is widely believed that Mr. Aarons inspired the voyeuristic photographer L. B. "Jeff" Jeffries in Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 classic film, Rear Window.
Mr. Aarons took his no-frills artistic philosophy to Italy, where he headed Life magazine's Rome photographic bureau. While there, he met and married Life employee Lorita Stewart, and the couple later had a daughter, Mary. During the 1950s, he photographed a seemingly endless array of bathing beauties and attractively landscaped swimming pools. A perfect example of Mr. Aarons' photographic ode to opulent lifestyles was his poolside portrait of American socialite C. Z. Guest. He photographed powerbroker David Rockefeller and iconic sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. His most famous photograph captured a spontaneous moment at Romanoff's Restaurant in Hollywood. Called "The Kings of Hollywood," it showed what Smithsonian magazine described as "a Mount Rushmore of stardom" - Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper, and James Stewart - sharing a laugh together on New Year's Eve 1957.
Although the 1950s clearly represent the pinnacle of Slim Aarons' career, he continued working well into his seventies. His photographs have been featured in several compilation texts, including A Wonderful Time: An Intimate Portrait of the Good Life (1974), Slim Aarons: Once Upon a Time (2003), Slim Aarons: A Place in the Sun (2005), and Poolside with Slim Aarons (2007). Eighty-nine-year-old Slim Aarons died of complications from a stroke on May 29, 2006, but his work continues to be celebrated in worldwide exhibitions such as Amsterdam's Torch Gallery in 2006, Los Angeles' M+B Gallery in 2007, and New York's Yancey Richardson Gallery in 2008.
2012 artnet – The Art World Online (URL: http://www.artnet.com/artists/slim-aarons).
2009 Gilded: How Newport Became America's Richest Resort (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons), p. 218.
2008 Photographers Gallery (URL: http://www.photographersgallery.com/photo.asp?id=149).
2006 Skiing Heritage Journal, Vol. XVIII (Burlington, VT: International Skiing History Association), p. 46.
2006 “Slim Aarons, 89, Dies; Photographed Celebrities at Play.” The New York Times, p. A23.
Copyright © 2002 - 2022 Historic Camera