In the midst of chaos, there exists a small group of brave individuals who risk their lives to document the horrors of war: combat photographers. These individuals point their cameras at the atrocity of war, capturing the brutal reality that unfolds across the landscape of battle. What’s created is a visceral reminder of the violence, allowing the public to get just a small glimpse into the nightmares faced by those touched by the fire of combat. The photos we see once the silence has settled offers us a small chance to witness the harrowing experiences they endured, what they needed to do, and what they still carry with them as they try to live their lives in peace.
Armed with an M1 and an Argus C3, Pennsylvanian native Tony Vaccaro of the U.S. Army’s 83rd Infantry Division, stepped onto the continent of Europe and went on to capture images of the devastating reality of war. Vaccaro would go on to photograph not just the battlefield, but what went beyond: the everyday lives of soldiers, civilians caught in the crossfire, and the ravaged cities that were left in the wake of the advancing and retreating forces.
After the war, Vaccaro continued his career in photography. He went on to create portraits of John F. Kennedy and Picasso, along with returning to Europe to photograph the post-war landscape to continue his ability to tell a story with a camera. His work mostly went unknown until the late 1990s, when his archives gained recognition and went on to be displayed in galleries and museums worldwide.
In the video above from the American Battlefield Trust, we get to see just a fraction of what he documented: the horrors of war, the spirit of his fellow soldiers, and moments of camaraderie, exhaustion, and determination. Vaccaro, and many to this day, play a crucial role in exposing the reality of war. Their photographs provide an unfiltered perspective that words by themselves cannot convey. The content is disturbing. However, what is offered is an opportunity to unveil the devastation of war and the wounds that soldiers carry with them long after the guns go silent.