In World War II, Tony Vaccaro played two risky roles, serving as a combat infantryman on the front lines, as well as a photographer who shot 8,000 photographs. Though he began as a young GI eager to record the war, he vowed never to take another war photo on the day the conflict ended, horrified by what he had seen.
Directed by Max Lewkowicz (the New York Emmy-winning Morgenthau), Underfire: The Untold Story of PFC. Tony Vaccaro chronicles the life and vision of this remarkable man, exploring how photography defines the way the public perceives armed conflict, and revealing the sheer difficulty of survival while taking photos in a war zone.
Through interviews with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers and Vaccaro himself, this intimate film examines issues raised by witnessing and recording conflict, following him as he retraces his journey across Europe as a soldier, sharing the stories behind some of his most powerful pictures along the way.
In 1943, a newly drafted Tony Vaccaro hoped to join the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Europe as a photographer, but was told he was too young. Undeterred, he found that his $47 personal camera, which was much more compact than the bulky, standard-grade military one, allowed him “the ability to run with the camera, to move it [and] to react quickly.”
As an infantryman, Vaccaro was also uniquely positioned to gain the trust of his fellow soldiers, and was able to capture up-close-and-personal photographs that brought the war into focus in a way no one else could. Vaccaro spent the next 272 days in the 83rd Infantry Division as an unofficial combat photographer.
Though he traveled through Europe working with Stars and Stripes newspaper following the war, Vaccaro struggled to cope with the horrors he had witnessed. He went on to become a world-renowned fashion and magazine photographer (capturing everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren to Pablo Picasso and John F. Kennedy) and start a family, but never took another image of armed conflict.
In addition to Tony Vaccaro, interviewees include Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalists Lynsey Addario and Tyler Hicks; New York Times senior photographer James Estrin; bestselling author and historian Alex Kershaw; Anne Wilkes Tucker, a curator of the photography exhibition War/Photography; and John G. Morris, photo editor of LIFE magazine during World War II.
Underfire: The Untold Story of PFC. Tony Vaccaro was written, produced and directed by Max Lewkowicz; written and produced by Valerie Thomas; executive producers, Tim Van Patten, Gianna Cerbone-Teoli and Ann Oster; co-executive producer, James Estrin. For HBO: senior producer, Jacqueline Glover; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.