New book reveals the more human side of Slim Aarons


There’s the side of photographer Slim Aarons – the “opulent world” he documented as a de facto postwar jetset columnist – for which he is most famous. And then there’s the other side, which is everything else about the man born George Allen Aarons, who grew up poor and Jewish on the Lower East Side, away from the WASP-y types, old money that ‘he shot on the ski slopes or in their Palm Beach mansions.

According to Shawn Waldron, Aarons’ recent rise in popularity thanks to social media platforms like Instagram has obscured more of his legacy. “Most famous images are in color, so I made a point of putting a lot of new and unpublished black and white work into the book.”

The book, Slim Aarons: Style (on sale October 19), is the final chapter in a series of books featuring the lost world captured by Aarons. But unlike previous installments, Waldron, curator at the Getty Archives and Director of Archives Slim Aarons, has raised the curtain a bit. There are still plenty of colorful photos of the rich and beautiful doing rich and beautiful things like fox hunting, attending debutante balls, showing off their expensive cars, and making lounging look like the only respectable pursuit of life. But there is so much more than what Waldron considers the ‘Instagram aesthetic’ of Aaron’s work, as an appearance by Diane Arbus, the photographer best known for her snapshots of Jewish giants and children holding toy grenades. , but who also started out as a fashion photographer. The photo isn’t much, just a snapshot of a moment in time, Arbus and her husband, actor and photographer Allan Arbus, photographing a model on 72nd Street. But there is something so sweet about it, one great photographer admiring another. It was one of the many surprises found by Waldron.

Slim Aarons: Style is the final chapter in the lost world books captured by Aarons.

Slim Aarons / Getty Images

“I found the negative points for that. It was just in a New York file, unlabeled. It was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool. It’s supposed to be a little fashion photoshoot. Then Waldron took a closer look at the face of one of the women and the straight hair of the man behind the camera and realized that it was Diane and Allan Arbus doing a photoshoot. .

If you’re the type of person drawn to a certain vibe – wealthy people who seem to have taste and know how to have a good time – Slim Aarons is your patron saint. But there are a lot of things that are outdated in his work. For starters, today’s rich people are often accused of having too much money and too little taste. There is also the inevitable whiteness of its subjects. It makes sense that there aren’t many people of color in his photos, given that Aaron’s most famous time was in the 50s and 60s, a time when you could still find “New Jews, no blacks, no dogs” signs in American country clubs.

Two photos of Slim Aarons: one of a man jumping off a diving board at a party, and the other of a rich man in a Guayabera shirt smoking a cigar

The enchanted world of Slim Aarons has received more criticism in recent years

Slim Aarons / Getty Images

But with his work being rediscovered by new generations, it means that Aaron’s work is able to live in new ways. The most notable example is a recent Hype Williams-shot series inspired by Aarons for Jay-Z’s cannabis brand that Waldron consulted. He sees Slim Aarons as a shortcut to a certain ambitious lifestyle, no matter who you are or where you come from. Brands and designers like Ralph Lauren, Rowing Blazers and Sid Mashburn understand the appeal and find ways to incorporate his influence into what they do, just like Williams in ingeniously retrieving Aaron’s photos and aesthetic for a new school of subjects.

“I think once he sort of became disassociated from the human. It just becomes symbolic of that moment or feeling. Then it becomes open to interpretation and people riffing on it, which is exactly what Hype did.

And now with Slim Aarons: Style, people looking for inspiration have the choice between a new moodboard. The mix of old classics and never-before-seen shots makes this book a welcome addition to the small library of books devoted to Aaron’s work, but the new shots Waldron unearthed for the occasion also shed new light on a photographer whose many of us are just beginning to understand beyond the glitz and glamor.

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