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Photography Pioneer Jacques Henri Lartigue

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Bichonnade Leaping Jacques-Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894 – 1986) was a French photographer and painter. Born in Courbevoie, near Paris, to a wealthy family, he is most famous for his stunning photos of automobile races, planes and fashionable Parisian women from the turn of the century.

He started taking photos when he was 6, his subject matter being primarily his own life and the people and activities in it.

Although little seen in that format, many of his earliest and most famous photographs were originally taken in stereo, but he also produced vast numbers of images in all formats and media including glass plates in various sizes, some of the earliest autochromes, and of course film in 2 1/4” square and 35mm.

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His greatest achievement was his set of around 120 huge photograph albums, which compose the finest visual autobiography ever produced. While he sold a few photographs in his youth, mainly to sporting magazines such as La Vie au Grand Air, in middle age he concentrated on his painting, and it was through this that he earned his living, although he maintained written and photographic journals throughout his life.

Only when he was 69 were his boyhood photographs serendipitously discovered by Charles Rado of the Rapho agency, who introduced him to John Szarkowski, then curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who in turn arranged an exhibition of his work at the museum.

From this, there was a photo spread in Life magazine in 1963, coincidentally in the issue which commemorated the death of John Kennedy, ensuring the widest possible audience for his pictures.

By then as he received stints for fashion magazines, he was famous in other countries other than his native France.

He was rewarded with his first French retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the following year and had more commissions from fashion and decoration magazines flooding in for the rest of his life.

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His first book, Diary of a Century was published soon afterwards in collaboration with Richard Avedon, and from then on innumerable books and exhibitions throughout the world have featured Lartigue’s photographs.

He continued taking photographs throughout the last three decades of his life, finally achieving the commercial success that had previously evaded this rather unworldly man.


Florette 1945

From BBC – Fixing the Shadows

The paradox of photography, its unpredictable generosity and democratic inclusiveness is exemplified in the story of Jacques-Henri Lartigue. Late in his life, Lartigue would be hailed as one of the founders of modern photography.

In reality, he was the ultimate amateur, who in a remarkable series of family albums assembled a portrait of turn-of-the-century France, as it appeared to the eyes of a fun-loving boy, from the age of 8 to 18.

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“He is essentially the gifted amateur. He has got access to all the best equipment, the state art equipment, he has a father who is passionate about photography, he is a subscriber to all of these magazines – he’s just got all the advantages. But he is also, throughout his entire life, you understand this about him – that he understands the look of the world at any given moment; he understands how things look; how women look at a certain period in time; and how to capture the essence of that moment, whatever form that’s in.”

Kevin Moore (Lartigue biographer) Striking though they are, Lartigue’s pictures are not without precedent. Instant photography, which arrested movement for humorous effect, was a cliché of the amateur repertoire.

Lartique simply did what everyone else was doing, but with more flair and more daring. “All the jumping and flying in Lartigue’s photographs, it looks like the whole world at the turn of the century is on springs or something.

There’s a kind of spirit of liberation that’s happening at the time and Lartigue matches that up with what stop action photography can do at the time, so you get these really dynamic pictures.

And for Lartigue part of the joke, most of the time, is that these people look elegant but they are doing these crazy stunts.” Kevin Moore (Lartigue biographer)

Extract from ‘Fixing the Shadows’, Genius of Photography (Wall to Wall)

Click here to see clips from this episode

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May 18, 2008 Posted by | Jacques Henri Lartigue, _PHOTOGRAPHY | Leave a comment