We’d live inside his photos if we could.
American photographer Slim Aarons was famed for his post-war photographs of the rich and famous in the 1950s and 1960s golden era. Slim defined his job as “photographing attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places” and he did just that.
Slim used his charm to coax socialites, celebrities and jet-setters to pose for him in beautiful places. Whether they were lounging by a pool, riding a horse or on a yacht, Slim traipsed the world to portray the good life using simple Kodacolor, standing out from the black and white photography favoured by his predecessors. Some of his most famous work included Marilyn Monroe, Mara Lane, Jackie Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco.
No doubt you’ve seen the photo. Two attractive women sit in lounge chairs beside a teal-blue pool, looking fabulous and moneyed. A third, all legs and carefree attitude, strides toward them with a drink in her hand. In the background is a modern glass-and-stone house and purplish mountains. The landscape is idyllic. The sunlight is hazy and golden. You would live inside the photo if you could.
Poolside Gossip, taken at the Kaufman House in Palm Springs, California, has become as much a symbol of modernism as the Richard Neutra home that was its setting. Open a few shelter magazines and you’re likely to come across the photo hanging in someone’s home – a piece of hip retro décor like the Barcelona chair or the lacquer Parsons desk.
There were three women in the image: Nelda Linsk, who owned the home, and Helen Kaptur, who was married for many years to the midcentury architect Hugh Kaptur and has since passed away from ovarian cancer.
The third woman, walking alongside the pool, was Lita Baron, an actress. Decades later, Nelda Linsk about spoke participating in the original shoot.
What do you remember about the photo shoot?
It was 1970. It was in February, I think. It was about 11 in the morning. Slim called us. He knew our house was a Neutra. He said: “I want to come over and do a pool shot. Call some friends over.”
It was so casual. He came with his tripod. The shoot was about an hour and a half. We socialized for an hour or two afterward. It was a fun day. I had no idea it would become that famous. I wish I had royalties.
Why do you think so many people love Poolside Gossip?
It’s our lifestyle. We have such indoor-outdoor living. We have meals out on the terrace. The photo shows the mountains, the sun, the pool. It just is our lifestyle. Of course, it’s the architecture of the house in the background, too.
There were no makeup or wardrobe people. Slim said, “Pull something out of your closet.” Our house was done in yellow: the umbrellas were yellow, the flowers yellow. So I thought I’d wear something yellow. My outfit was in yellow terry cloth. I had on palazzo pants.
Helen showed up in that fabulous white lace. She looked so glamorous! Both of our outfits were bare midriff. We both had big hair. In those days, you had big hair.
What do you see when you look at the photo?
I have such great memories of that house. It had those aluminum shutters. If it was windy or sunny, you could close them. The fireplace was Arizona stone. The chimney came all the way up, so there was a fireplace on the second level, too. I fell in love with the design of the house and the loggia. On a clear day, you could almost see the Salton Sea. We had breakfast up there. There was a dumbwaiter on the loggia. If we forgot a lemon for the martinis, we could call down and they would put it on the dumbwaiter.
How did you come to own the Kaufman House?
My husband, Joseph Linsk, had been coming out here for years and playing golf. After we were married, he said he wanted to move out here. I said, “Great.” The first time we stayed at the racquet club. The second time we stayed at Claudette Colbert’s house. Then a real estate agent told us about the Neutra house. We got to the gate, I looked at all the Arizone stone, and I said: “This is our house, Joe. This is our house.”
Do you own a copy of Poolside Gossip?
I have one signed by Slim. It’s hanging in my house. Slim called me one day from a book-signing party in New York and said, “Why is this photo so famous?” I said, “Slim, it’s because I’m in it.”
Scenes by Slim Aarons
A house in South Africa with stairs leading to the swimming pool in the garden, 1958.
‘Four Winds,’ the home of business executive J. Patrick Lannan, in Palm Beach, Florida, 1968.
The late Pauline Haywood sunbathing on a lilo in a swimming pool designed by Engish artist Oliver Messel, Barbados, 1976.
Holidaymakers around a pool in Carvoeiro, Portugal, 1970.
Holidaymakers on the rocks at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, 1979.
The Caracalla Therme Spa in Baden-Baden, Germany, 1990.
A pool near Lake Tahoe, California, 1959.
Apartments and pools at the La Concha Beach Club at the Las Brisas Resort in Acapulco, Mexicao, in 1968.
Eleuthera pool party, Bahamas, circa 1970.