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Two years ago, while reporting in Long Island City, Queens, I met a man named Tony Vaccaro. Tony was 93-years-old. He wore a brown herringbone jacket and ate at the same Italian restaurant on Vernon Boulevard nearly every single day. He liked to drink red wine, listen to opera and take pictures with his old Leica.

During our first meeting, Tony showed me his pictures, which he carried in a brown cardboard box, worn around the edges. We sat across from each other, as he pulled his photographs out, one at a time, recollecting the time and place each photo was taken.
First, he showed me a picture that was shot during World War II—Tony was one of the only people to photograph the war as a soldier.
Tony explained how he used his bayonet to chip away the ice around the soldier’s body and reveal his name. It was Henry Tannenbuam—Tony’s best friend.
After the war, Tony became a fashion photographer. He photographed hundreds of celebrities, including Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and John F. Kennedy.
“Anybody who was anybody, I photographed,” Tony told me, as he sipped a cup of espresso and sifted through his photos with both ritualism and reverence.

In 1960, Tony went to Sante Fe, New Mexico to photograph Georgia O’Keefe, the famous modern artist. He described how he caught O’Keefe in an intimate moment—as she looked through a slice of Swiss cheese, studying the perspective for one of her paintings. 
When we parted, Tony insisted I take home one of his photos. I was drawn to a black and white picture of a woman in a long, slim dress with horizontal pockets. Her hair was cropped short, and she was standing on a boardwalk, looking out at the water.
This is a picture of the woman that became my wife," Tony said, pausing. "Anja and I went all over taking pictures together before she died."

I often look at this photo of Tony's wife, now in my bedroom desk, and wonder whether I should even have it. Sometimes I worry I've taken something that's not mine—a moment that I never lived, that someone else can't afford to live without. But then I think about a phrase that Tony told me, over and over again. "I took pictures to make mankind better," he said. "I wanted to give something back."

Photography makes memory material, mortality surmountable. It makes it so people and places can persist, irrespective of time or place. I feel very lucky that Tony shared his work with me, and I'm glad now to return the favor.

 Photos courtesy of Tony Vaccaro Studio 
On NPR's All Things Considered, Audie Cornish Talks to psychologist Linda Henkel about whether photographs impair our memory in a series titled, Photography And Memory that explores the relationship between human memory and photography in the age of smartphone cameras.
"As soon as you hit click on that camera, it's as if you've outsourced your memory," Henkel says. "Anytime we kind of count on these external memory devices, we're taking away from the kind of mental cognitive processing that might help us actually remember that stuff on our own."

  listen here  
America's Monuments Hiding in Plain Sight

"'The American Monument' came about in similar fashion, when he noticed that memorials and statues of all kinds cropped up in multiple contact sheets, some of which were primarily concerned with other matters. After that, he began seeking out such monuments in the course of his travels throughout the States ... Friedlander’s photos read like an almost-random survey of the aesthetics and meanings of all kinds of monuments — and of how easy it is to forget what is meant to be remembered."

Geoff Dyer // NY Times Magazine
Image of Time

"Time is photography’s illusion. Almost every photograph appears instantaneous. But of course, there’s no such thing as “instantaneous”: All fragments of time have a length. In a photograph, the time during which the light is refracted by the lens, enters the aperture and is allowed to rest on the photosensitive surface could be 1/125th of a second, one-eighth of a second, half a second, a whole minute, much more or much less. What is intriguing about a practice like Christenberry’s is that it employs time elsewhere in the photograph too: as a source of narrative." 

Teju Cole // NY Times Magazine


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