You are reading

Memorial Service to Take Place Wednesday for Tony Vaccaro, World Renowned LIC Photographer

Tony Vaccaro (Photo via Instagram)

Jan. 4, 2023 By Michael Dorgan

A memorial service will be held in Long Island City Wednesday for Tony Vaccaro, a world-renowned fashion, celebrity and wartime photographer who died on Dec. 28 – just eight days after he celebrated his 100th birthday.

Vaccaro, a trailblazer in the industry, snapped icons such as Sophia Loren, Pablo Picasso as well as former U.S. President John F. Kennedy during his decades-long career.

He was also known for harrowing photographs he took while he fought during World War II. The war hero served as a private in the 83rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army on the battlefields in Europe. He was shot and injured twice and received a purple heart.

Vaccaro used army helmets to develop his film at night and then hung the prints on tree branches to dry. He also documented the post-war carnage in Europe with his camera.

Vaccaro passed away at his home in Long Island City with his family by his side. His memorial service will take place at 10-15 46th Road from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“Tony loved people more than anything and saw the best in everyone,” the family posted on his Instagram page while announcing his death. The account is managed by his daughter-in-law Maria.

“Tony wanted to reach 100 more than anything and he did. After his big birthday he told us, ‘Now I can rest.’”

Vaccaro’s birthday was celebrated in the local Italian restaurant Manducatis Rustica, located at 46-35 Vernon Blvd., where the photographer was a regular and close friend of Gianna Cerbone, the owner of the establishment. Cerbone posted a video of the event online where she interviewed many of the attendees who spoke of their fondness for Vaccaro.

A collection of Vaccaro’s photographs are on display in the restaurant.

His birthday celebration followed a five-day photo exhibition in Manhattan showcasing the best of Vaccaro’s work. The display, called “Tony Vaccaro: The Centennial Exhibit,” was hosted by the Monroe Gallery, a New Mexico-based gallery of photography.

Some of the exhibits included a World War II photograph of a dead soldier whose body is partly covered by snowfall. Vaccaro came upon the fallen soldier the morning after he died only to realize it was Private Henry I. Tannenbaum, a friend of his from New York.

Other photographs include a soldier kneeling to kiss a little girl during a celebration in a newly liberated French town in 1944 while in another image after the war, Vaccaro snapped a distraught German soldier on his return home. The photograph is titled “Defeated Soldier.”

“If I had to pick one image that I love more than the rest is my ‘Defeated Soldier,'” Vaccaro said while commenting on the photograph in 2021.

“After the War, German soldiers were depicted negatively. Here is a young German soldier returning home finding only rubble where his home used to be. His family, wife and children were all killed. We must not divide ourselves Germans, French, Italians we are all the same no matter what country we are from or color of our skin. When you cut me we all bleed the same blood.”

“White Death,” Pvt. Henry Irving Tannebaum, Ottre, Belgium 1945, by Tony Vaccaro (Photo provided by the Monroe Gallery)

The trauma of the war and its aftermath left an indelible mark on Vaccaro and he vowed that he would never again bring a camera to war. When he returned to the U.S. in 1949, he embarked on a career in fashion photography and documenting famous figures in art and film.

He worked for magazines including Life, Look, Time, Newsweek, Harper’s Bazaar, Town & Country and Flair. Some of his subjects also included the Eisenhower family, Georgia O’Keeffe, Eartha Kitt, Jackson Pollock, Frank Lloyd Wright, Greta Garbo, Maria Callas, Federico Fellini and French couturier Hubert de Givenchy.

He strove for naturalism in his fashion shoots and sought to remove anything artificial.

“I put my subjects in an environment — their favorite environment — and then I took photos,” Vaccaro said previously.

In a promotional video for The Centennial Exhibition, he said that patience was one of his most important attributes in being a successful photographer.

“That’s why very often I was the best photographer because I waited for the right moment,” Vaccaro said.

The Fashion Train, New York City, 1960, by Tony Vaccaro (Photo provided by the Monroe Gallery)

Gwen Verdon, New York City 1953, by Tony Vaccaro (Photo provided by the Monroe Gallery)

Vaccaro was born in Greensburg Pennsylvania on Dec. 20, 1922, to Italian parents. He spent his early childhood in Italy after his family had to flee the States under threats from the Mafia.

By the age of 5, both of his parents had died, and he went to live with an uncle and aunt. His sisters were taken to an Italian orphanage.

“I was raised by my uncle, who physically abused me,” Vaccaro told the New York Post in December. “But he did give me my father’s box camera, and my love for photography was born.”

Vaccaro and his siblings returned to America before war broke out in Europe and lived together in New Rochelle, in Westchester County.

He attended Isaac E. Young High School before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944. He fought in Normandy, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, taking pictures along the way.

In 1994, the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Vaccaro was awarded the French Legion of Honor, among many other awards and recognitions.

His photographs and experience of the war were the subjects of a 2016 HBO documentary called “Underfire, The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro.” The documentary was nominated for an Emmy award.

Vaccaro is survived by his sons Frank and David from his marriage to Anja Lehto — a former fashion model from Finland — and two grandsons. Vaccaro and Lehto separated in 1979; she died in 2013.

Tony Vaccaro with test strip in New York, 1968 (Photo provided by the Monroe Gallery)

HBO Documentary – “Underfire, The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro”

email the author: [email protected]
No comments yet

Leave a Comment
Reply to this Comment

All comments are subject to moderation before being posted.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Recent News

Borough president hears from community members on budget needs throughout Queens

During a two-day public hearing on the mayor’s 2024 preliminary budget, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. listened to testimonies from 14 community board representatives, community stakeholders and members of the public on where the money should be spent in Queens. 

The public hearings were held both in-person and via Zoom on Monday, Jan. 30, and Tuesday, Jan. 31, at Queens Borough Hall. The testimonials will be used to develop the Queens Borough Board’s FY24 preliminary budget priorities in the coming weeks. 

‘He didn’t deserve to die’: Borough President Richards leads emotional candlelight vigil for Tyre Nichols

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards held a candlelight vigil for Tyre Nichols outside Queens Borough Hall Monday, Jan. 30 after Nichols’ death at the hands of police officers in Memphis, Tenn., made national headlines for the brutality in which the officers beat him.

Almost immediately after news broke about Nichols’ death, the Memphis police officers who beat him to death were fired and charged with murder. The police department released the body cam footage of the fatal beating on Jan. 27, but many people, including some at the vigil, have refused to watch it due to its extremely graphic nature.

Long Island City teen sentenced in fatal shooting of ‘beloved’ school teacher at Queensbridge Houses in 2020: DA

A Long Island City man on Friday, Jan. 28, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the 2020 fatal shooting of a public school social studies teacher who was out walking his dog when he was caught in the crossfire during a confrontation between gang rivals in broad daylight, just blocks from his home, according to Queens District Attorney’s office.

Ike Ford, 19, of 12th Street, in Long Island City, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the first degree before Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Holder. The teacher, George Rosa, 53, was shot in his abdomen by a stray bullet fired by Ford, who was just 17 years old at the time of the shooting but was sentenced as an adult given the severity of the crime, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

LaGuardia Community College receives federal funding to expand vocational training for the unemployed

LaGuardia Community College recently received more than $400,000 in federal funding to enhance and expand vocational training for underemployed New Yorkers in a city that is still working to recover from COVID-19 pandemic-induced job loss. The support was secured by U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and former Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney.

LaGuardia Community College President Kenneth Adams explained that the school lost nearly a quarter of its students at the height of the pandemic due to the economic effects of the lockdown on low-income Queens households.

BP launches new advisory panel for youth to become civically engaged in the future of Queens

In an effort to get more young people involved in civics, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has created a new advisory panel known as the Youth and Young Adult Council to introduce the “youngest and fiercest” community advocates to both community service and organization.

Members of the advisory body will advocate concerns through means of community engagement by participating in one of two cohorts. The first will be made up of high school representatives between the ages of 13 and 17, while the second cohort will be comprised of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.