George Allen Aarons, called “Slim” because of his slender body, was born in Manhattan on Oct. 29, 1916. He was reared in New York and New Hampshire and was an Army photographer in World War II; he is now regarded as one of the most influential magazine photographers of his generation. After enlisting in the army at the age of 18 he became a photographer at the West Point Military Academy and then a reporter during the Second World War. Regarding his participation in the conflict, which nevertheless earned him the Purple Heart, Aarons simply says that “The only beach worth landing on is the one adorned with ravishing young semi-clad girls, sun-bathing peacefully in the sun.” Shortly after he opened a bureau for Life magazine in Rome, where he vowed to make a career out of photographing beautiful people, doing it his own way with natural surroundings, little makeup and no artificial light.
In 1951 Slim Aarons married a young Life employee, Lorita Dewart. The family for many years lived in Katonah, N.Y., spending winters in Gstaad or Palm Beach, and summers on the French or Italian Rivieras. In New York Mr. Aarons photographed all of Leland Hayward’s stage productions. In 1974 he published ”A Wonderful Time: An Intimate Portrait of the Good Life.” which today is considered a classic. A sequel, “Once Upon a Time,” in part a reprise of the first book, was published in 2003. In 2005 a third book, ”A Place in the Sun,” came out. He is noted for his documentation of the Beautiful People for over 50 years, encompassing high society, celebrity, aristocracy, and the jet set.
From 1950 to 1980, he was the premiere Jet Set photographer and dedicated himself to the depiction of Hollywood glamour and luxury. The figures are exclusively celebrities, photographed in luxurious surroundings, often around a swimming-pool, in their own home. He constructed his career by only photographing “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.” In 2002, he proclaimed to The Independent newspaper: ”I knew everyone, they invited me to their parties as they knew that I would not cause them any harm. I was one of them”. Aarons was known for the positive portrayals he gave to the people he photographed and was invited to high-society gatherings for exactly this reason. Though upholding this glamorous image of wealth, power, talent and beauty, he saw himself as a journalist whose duty it was to inform, and this led him to develop the environmental portrait – photographs of his subjects at home, at work, at play and mingling with each other. This type of portrait has influenced a generation of photojournalists whose work can be seen in today’s lifestyle magazines.
Aarons photographs appeared in many magazines, including Life, Holiday, Town & Country, Look, Venture, and Travel & Leisure. Having taken an iconic portrait of Ann Getty, in 1997 he left his massive collection to the Getty Foundation. Slim Aarons died on May 29th 2006, but his art will keep the spirit and beauty of the rich and famous of the 20th century.