Tony Vaccaro’s international reputation has never made him forget his Italian origins and Bonefro is forever in his heart.
New York and Bonefro are intimately linked thanks to this energetic man who went through the twentieth century and gained perennial fame.
But let’s start from the beginning and from his birth in 1922 in Greensburg in Pennsylvania from parents from Bonefro in Molise. A region so small that in Italy we curiously call Molise as the ‘region that does not exist’.
In 1926 the family returned to Italy to escape the mafia, and shortly after Tony’s parents died and the four-year-old boy was taken into custody and raised by his paternal grandmother while his sister was placed in an orphanage.
An unhappy childhood forced by his paternal uncle to work as a child, but a loneliness interrupted by the beauty of the village and the Molise countryside. A beauty that will forever bind him to his Italian roots.
With the rise of fascism and the approach of World War II, Tony left Italy to escape the war thanks to his American passport and graduated from high school in New York. But his destiny was to be different and he would find himself involved in the war in any case but in the ranks of the American army.
Thus, in 1943 he saw the US Army proposal for photography experts who could document the war and Tony applied. He sent as an example the photographs he took in high school and was rejected due to his age.
However, he was then sent as a private citizen following the 83rd Infantry Division and fought in Normandy, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. His role was to scout and take some pictures with his compact Argus C3.
From Omaha Beach to Berlin, this was his path!
Beauty and irony are the lenses with which he decided on the poses and shots and his never banal photos managed to penetrate the soul of those who looked at them. He documented his entire life at the front but also the daily life of the army and the people they met in various countries.
The dignity of man has always been respected and shots like Kiss of Liberation, Death in the Snow and Last Step of Jack Rose are part of the history of photography and are a heritage of the whole world.
At the end of the war, Tony Vaccaro decided to stay in Germany and got his first job as a photographer for a Frankfurt company and then for the US Army’s Stars and Stripes magazine. He would remain in Germany until 1949 photographing and documenting the post-war life of this country.
Due to his ability to see beyond appearances, when he returned to the United States, Tony became a photographer in great demand by topical magazines such as Life. And he was contested by all the celebrities in the world of fashion and entertainment who wanted to be immortalized by his camera.
The list of celebrities and heads of state who have been photographed is impressive!
From 1973 to 1978, Tony became a photography professor at Copper Union in the East Village.
All this while Tony was trying in every way to spend his holidays in Italy and to transmit his love for our country to his children born from a marriage with a Finnish model.
Molise is always present and the municipality of Bonefro has dedicated a museum to him that collects part of his immense archive (even if about 4.000 photographs were lost in 1947).
He has published several books of photographs and has been awarded prizes in many countries such as America, Italy, France, Germany and Luxembourg and he was awarded at the Boston Film Festival for a documentary that tells his life.
Many of his images have not been seen and he has now set up a large studio in New York where you can see a large selection of his personal archive. The Tony Vaccaro Studio is managed by one of his sons who lovingly follows him in promoting his work so that he can be an example for the new generations.
We met Tony on video call and he told us about his life but also about his love for Molise. He still dreams of the farm surrounded by olive trees and which belonged to the Vaccaro family since the time of Dante Alighieri.
He dreams of returning to Bonefro for the holidays and transmits this love of Bonefro in every look and in every word. For this reason, Tony Vaccaro received the Town Ambassador Award from Discoverplaces and from the mayor of Bonefro, Nicola Giovanni Montagano.