This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of photographer Slim Aarons, whose camera immortalised American high society between the 1950s and 80s. His shots tell stories of privilege and influence and made the swimming pool an object of desire for many generations.
Although born in Manhattan in 1916, Slim Aarons was raised far from the bright lights of the Big Apple. The man who would become an indisputable insider into the Californian elite grew up with his grandparents on a New Hampshire farm and didn’t leave rural New England until he was 18, when he enlisted in the army.
It was during his time at military academy that he discovered his passion for photography. At West Point, Aarons was responsible for developing photographs and when he was sent to Europe to fight in World War II, he continued experimenting and progressing with the camera. When he returned from the war he got a job as a photojournalist with Life magazine.
His first job for the publication would change his life. When he was assigned to cover a Hollywood event, Aarons was so captivated by the elegance and pace of the city that he decided to move to Los Angeles and devote himself to snapping celebrities. Slowly but surely he worked his way into the Californian jet set and began to photograph the pool parties he was invited to.
His pictures offered a glimpse into an exclusive world that many could only dream of. Everybody wanted Aarons at their parties: film and music stars, famous sportspeople, businesspeople, politicians and aristocrats. They all invited him to their glamorous and convivial poolside get-togethers, which he captured and published in the most influential magazines of the day. Indeed, his ability to open windows onto other lives inspired the script of his friend Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window.
Aarons published his book A Wonderful Time in 1974 and although it didn’t originally sell well, it went on to become a staple for many design and fashion professionals in the 1990s. A further three books cover his work: Slim Aarons: Once Upon a Time (2003), Slim Aarons: A Place in the Sun (2005) and the posthumous work Poolside with Slim Aarons (2007). Slim Aarons died in Montrose, New York, in 2006.