The Lost World
One of Slim Aarons’ most famous quotes states that he built his career “photographing attractive people who were doing attractive things in attractive places.” By the end of WWII, war photographer Slim Aarons turned to celebrity reportage. And as he had once been able to find his way within the vortex of war and to document its tragedy, he achieved to become acquainted and ultimately accepted by the post-war high society. Today, his fresco of this international Jet Set looks unreal — as if the world he depicted never existed.
Two beautiful women peacefully resting by a pool, chatting; a young mother walking with her son and dogs in a monumental backyard; a group of wealthy holiday seekers posing for posterity along their way: most photographs by Slim Aarons simultaneously feel timeless and casual. They as much testify about the life of the post-war elite as they helped constructing their myth. They as much present how the high society and aristocracy were living as the way they wanted to see themselves. Their fantasized narratives were as ordered, bright and confident as Slim Aarons’ compositions and shiny colors. Today, part of the pleasure to be confronted to Slim Aarons’ depiction of this world, that has passed to history, is to measure the gap between the seemingly untroubled confidence of those who were part of it and the viewer’s contemporary experience of living in a world where the Cold War is not a reality anymore: a place where beliefs in political ideologies and great narratives have turned obsolete.
Maybe there is certain nostalgia at looking at these pictures of a class that never doubted the righteousness and legitimacy of their position. This might be one of the many reasons why Slim Aarons’ photographs keep on fascinating: They have left to posterity their dream of mythical harmony.
Catherine Somzé, Amsterdam 2005