“The combat soldier has something in his memory that will drive him insane for the rest of his life,” Tony Vaccaro says in Underfire: The Untold Story of PFC Tony Vaccaro. The HBO documentary chronicles Vaccaro’s life when he was a combat infantryman on the front lines in Europe during World War II. He wasn’t just a soldier. He was a photographer, recording 8,000 images against orders, including the burned bodies of his compatriots. Vaccaro was a changed man when he left the military, scarred by what he’d seen, but he went on to be a career photographer in the United States. He shot for popular magazines like Life and Newsweek, and photographed celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and Pablo Picasso. On Nov. 1, Vaccaro was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Louis.
Vaccaro turns 97 in December. He was known for his intense work ethic, but he was less so about keeping track of his negatives, so his archives are a treasure trove of unseen images. In recent years, his son and daughter-in-law have unearthed some of these never-before-exhibited photographs in Tony Vaccaro: La Dolce Vita, opening at Monroe Gallery of Photography (112 Don Gaspar Ave.) with a public reception from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 29. Vaccaro will be in attendance.
Among the 40 images in La Dolce Vita are some previously unseen black-and-white shots from Germany after the war, when Vacarro chronicled the country’s reconstruction for Stars and Stripes magazine, including Waiting For Mom. Two children wait outside a grocery store with the family shopping cart, Hoescht, Germany, 1946. An adolescent girl wearing a drab apron leans stiffly against the wall of a building while a little boy fidgets next to her. In front of them on a cobblestone street is an old-fashioned wooden cart, half-full of lumpy parcels. In Children during Reconstruction, Nuremberg, Germany, 1948, two barefoot blond boys sit below a workman on a ladder who is scraping layers of bills off a kiosk. Shredded paper rests all over the ground. Both photos vibrate with a sense of stunned emptiness.
Tony Vaccaro: La Dolce Vita continues through Jan. 26. Monroe Gallery screens the HBO documentary Underfire: The Untold Story of PFC Tony Vaccaro at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30; free, but RSVP required. 505-992-0800, monroegallery.com.