June 6 - 30, 1944. The inaugural phase of Operation Overlord takes place on the beaches of Normandy: more than 850,000 Allied troops land on the continent, with the goal of advancing toward the borders of the Third Reich and liberating northwestern Europe from Nazi occupation. Among the war correspondents who reached France by sea and joined the troops on the long march to Berlin were Elisabeth "Lee" Miller (1907 - 1977), an established photographer with friendships and collaborations with the surrealist movement behind her, as well as four years of reporting from the home front for "British Vogue," and Michelantonio "Tony" Vaccaro (1922), a young soldier in the us Army who, as a reporter for the 83rd Infantry Division, took the first steps in his professional career. Two different looks, though exercised simultaneously, on the same and terrible reality: total war.
Lee Miller lands on French shores twenty days away from D-Day in Lee Miller lands on French shores twenty days away from D-Day in Lee Miller lands on French shores twenty days away from D-Day as a correspondent for the U.S. Army, with whom she has managed to gain accreditation after the stark refusal of the U.K. High Command. Over the course of the next nine months she followed the American armies and took part, often contravening the prohibitions of the military authorities, in some of the most important moments of the Allied offensive on the continent: the siege of Saint Malo; the liberation of Paris, where she stayed a few weeks in search of her former friends: Picasso, Colette, Eluard, Aragon, Cocteau; the campaigns of Luxembourg and Alsace; the entry into Germany and the last, bloody battles on German soil; the taking of Munich, where he portrays Hitler's house in a state of complete abandonment, and the burning of his Alpine fortress at Berchtesgaden; the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau. From his surrealist past, his war photographs inherit a focus on "ordinary people": soldiers, nurses, civilians, casualties and the wounded; and an extraordinary technique, enhanced by the state-of-the-art equipment Lee Miller has at his disposal and which he does not relinquish even in the harsh conditions of the front. The sharpness and versatility of the image characterize the landscapes desertified by the fighting, the cities torn apart by bombing, the acts of arms and the scenes of death, in a continuous oscillation between immediacy and professional detachment that makes Lee Miller's account a unique testimony to the horrors of the conflict.
Tony Vaccaro landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, with a rifle in one hand and a camera in the other. As a photographer-soldier he documents and participates in the Allied advance through France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. From liberated Zerbst he tried, unsuccessfully, to reach Berlin to portray the entry of American troops; he would enter after the surrender, reporting as a correspondent for the us Army newspaper "The Stars and the Stripes" on the first months of postwar Germany. The 8,000 shots that - under extreme conditions littered with continuous and heavy obstacles - Tony Vaccaro takes during the course of the mobilization recount, from the inside, the difficult life on the front: the daily and close contact with death; the violence on the population; the devastation of the landscape and of any form of civil coexistence but also the solidarity among soldiers and their living conditions, with a realism and an absence of rhetoric that makes the images of the "combat photographer" one of the most authoritative documents of the wounds inflicted by World War II on the twentieth century.
There are many similarities with the author's biography. His feeling of being Italian and American, having crossed the Atlantic in both directions in search of answers to current and unanswered questions. In Vaccaro's case, too, the war is an inescapable watershed, dividing his existence, taking him out of Italy to enlist in the U.S. Army and pushing him to search - in the many post-war years - for traces of a humanity that can move away from hatred and terror. Difficult path fraught with obstacles especially for those who have known, told and photographed the war in its worst aspects. A young soldier with a passion for photography must document and preserve, fix tragic scenes and moments, describe celebrations and newfound freedom. A restless and curious photographer. His Argus C-3 opens small windows on a burning world trying to find its way back to reason and dialogue. The power of photography clashes with the difficult recourse to words, or artificial explanations.