You may not have heard the name Slim Aarons before, but there’s a very good chance you’ve seen his photographs.
It’s hard to open a travel, architectural or interior design journal these days without seeing one of his elegant retro high society portraits or glamorous poolside parties featured on the wall.
With access to some of the most exclusive addresses in American high-society, Slim Aarons captured the private lives of the upper class elite; from Hollywood’s most famous stars to women of both immense beauty and social standing, including C.Z Guest
to Britt Ekland, Princess Caroline of Monaco and Peggy Guggenheim.
His photographs encapsulate the American Dream; an aspirational world, ostentatious and decadent.
Slim was from a regular family, raised in New Hampshire, and he spent the Second World War as a combat photographer recording action on the frontlines among legends such as Robert Capa and Carl Mydans. The aftermath of the second world war led to a period of prosperity and globalisation and unlike Capa and Mydans,
Slim turned his lens away from conflict towards glamour and affluence.
The middle class swelled as did economic productivity and for the first time this growth was more evenly distributed across economic classes, not just in America but worldwide. A life of leisure and luxury was suddenly an achievable reality and upward mobility became the heart and soul of the American Dream.
For Slim Aarons the ‘golden age of capitalism’ became an era of opportunity and he decided that the only beach worth landing on was ‘decorated with beautiful semi-nude girls tanning in a tranquil sun.’ He spent the next 30 years on vacation with the rich and famous, claiming he only wanted to photograph ‘attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places,’ and this is exactly what he did.
Amongst his vast repertoire of iconic photographs there is one that stands out as his most memorable and that is of course, ‘Poolside Gossip’, also known as ‘Kaufmann Desert House’.
The classic ‘Poolside Gossip’ by Slim Aarons
The house depicted in the photograph is the epitome of 20th century wealth and success. Who buys just a house when you can have one designed by a leading architect in the most contemporary style?
The Kaufmann house was designed by Richard Neutra in 1946, commissioned by Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr.,
a Pittsburgh department store tycoon, and intended as a desert retreat to escape the harsh Pittsburgh winter.
Neutra designed the house in the ‘International Style’ which takes elements from both European Modernism and Functionalism. Its defining characteristics can be seen in the designs rectilinear forms, wide open interior spaces and the large overhanging roof that appears to hover unsupported; a weightless visual quality engineered by the use of cantilever construction.
The surfaces are also stripped of ornamentation in a ‘truth to materials’ fashion; an element of modernism which demands that the true nature of materials should not be hidden.
Offset this modern architectural achievement with an outdoor swimming pool,
set against a backdrop of desert landscape, and you have Slim Aaron’s ‘Poolside Gossip’
the perfect portrait of the pursuit of the high-life.
The photograph has been described as ‘the quintessential image of high-class leisure’ and shows ‘two queens of Palm Springs’ Helen Kaptur and Nelda Linsk dressed in the height of 70s fashion lounging by an outdoor swimming pool – a classic Slim Aarons composition.
It depicts a life of luxury, free from the demands of work. Perhaps this explains it’s lasting allure, whatever our sensibilities or political leanings,
there’s a small part of all of us that just wants to lounge around the pool in our extravagant desert house whilst looking effortlessly glamorous
in good company,
and having a poolside gossip.
Galerie Prints works closely and directly with the prestigious Getty Images Archive and Slim Aarons Estate – to bring you beautiful, certified fine art photographic prints from this breathtakingly beautiful collection held at the Archive.
Words by Dan Court
(All images copyright Getty Images Archive)