Michelantonio Celestino Onofrio “Tony” Vaccaro (December 20, 1922 – December 28, 2022) was a photographer who is best known for his photos taken in Europe during 1944 and 1945, and in Germany immediately following World War II. He subsequently became a fashion and lifestyle photographer for American magazines.
As a high school student in the New York City suburbs, Tony Vaccaro became intrigued by photography. Two months after graduation, when he was inducted into the Army during World War II, he showed a captain the photos he had taken for his yearbook and requested an assignment as a combat photographer with the Signal Corps.
“The pictures are great,” the officer told him. But since he had no experience in combat and was too young to be a seasoned photographer, he was rejected.
At 21, though, he was old enough to be an infantryman.
Private Vaccaro spent 272 days in combat with the 83rd Infantry Division, which fought its way from Normandy to Germany.
Along with the M-1 rifle he carried across Europe, he kept a small 35-millimeter Argus C3 camera that he had bought as a teenager. Army regulations prohibited soldiers from taking photos unless they were with the Signal Corps. But he managed to capture thousands of images of the war, taken close up. They conveyed an intimacy often denied to the photographers of the Signal Corps, whose mobility was limited by their much heavier cameras.
He later received approval to take photos openly, with the admonition that he was a rifleman first and a photographer second.
In September 1945, he was discharged from the army. Vaccaro stayed in Germany, where he obtained a job first as a photographer for Audio Visual Aids (AVA) stationed at Frankfurt, and then with Weekend, the Sunday supplement of the U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes. Until 1949, Vaccaro photographed throughout Germany and Europe, documenting post-war life.
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