Somewhere after the Beatles' first album and the invention of irony
For six weeks I’ve worked with Slim Aarons. Not the great but sadly late snapper himself, but his work, and not the usual ten by eight glossy, but a twenty foot by ten mural, on the landing, by the loos. Specifically, his Lounging in Verbier. Taken in February 1964, it’s from a set of images, my own preference being a portrait-format picture that looks like a Hieronymus Bosch, but that’s just me.
I’m a fan of Aarons’ work despite his unabashed adoration of his sole subject, the playtime of the rich and famous, and those famous for being rich. He’d survived combat on the Normandy beaches and preferred cocktails to C rations and bikinis to camo. He fits into a time-slot before irony, and even after photographers like Bill Owens and Joel Meyerowitz made their names with rawer social comment, on the streets and in suburbia, with pictures that looked like one thing but meant something else, Aarons stuck at it. He liked the high-life, and in a time before suspicion, his subjects loved and let him in.
Seeing Lounging every day for six weeks I was always pausing, enjoying. The après-skiers relaxing on the impossibly gorgeous slopes are so then, but Oh So Now. With their shawl-collared knits and ski-pants, Rolexes and Leicas they perfectly express mid-century chic. Captured in the Alpine light, f16 for maybe 125th of a second, they are timeless. On the left, a man I call Ed is filming his wife, unseen on her lounger, on a single 8 camera. It’ll be Kodachrome and the deep reds and blues will still be out there, somewhere, in a box in a crawl-space. On the right, my other chum, Randy, smokes something un-tipped while ignoring an oldster, perhaps his father-in-law, who wears a cheese-cutter cap. I can see he’s leaning in, maybe about to offer some pre-nuclear-age advice that’s all just phoey now. He has his viewfinder camera round his neck, the case cover dangling, looking like a tourist for Chrissake. Randy’s kids, ten years before they go to Brown or Harvard, relax at his feet. Cindy is blonde and has bangs. Brad, 10, already wants a Beatles mop, and they only arrived in the US last week for the Ed Sullivan show. Mom, a former Pan-Am stewardess, always combs her hair before photographs. Little did she know Ol’ Slim was 50 yards away on his Canon with a 40mm lens, and that this one would last forever.