Jacques Henri Lartigue, Photographerby Jacques-Henri Henri Lartigue (Photographer), Vicki Goldberg, Vicki Goldberg
Jacques-Henri Lartigue took his first pictures in the year 1900, at the age of six. He was considered a child prodigy and had produced incredible images of his family and friends by the time he was twelve. In the dozen or so years before World War I, whether it was racing cars, flying machines, people jumping, glider planes, ladies of fashion strolling in the park, or people at the seashore and at the races, the young Lartigue was fascinated by movement. An amateur graced with a sense of creation and a genius for form, his intent was to record a moment as it sped by. Lartigue was rediscovered in the 1970s with the publication of Diary of a Century, edited by Richard Avedon. Lartigue is the first book since then to survey the depth of the photographer's amusing and engaging historical perspectives. It is truly an homage to the revelations of his exceptional images that arrestingly document the end of the old world and the beginning of the new.
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Jacques Henri Lartigue thought that perhaps it was God who gave him his first camera. Or at least someone who might have been mistaken for him. "Papa," he wrote in a journal he reconstructed from childhood memories, "il ressemble au Bon Dieu (c'est peut-être même bien lui, déguisé?), il vient de me dire: 'Je vais te donner un vrai appareil de photographie!'" [As for Daddy, he is like God (and may even be him, in disguise), and has just told me: "I'm going to to give you a real camera!"] His father took photographs himself and taught the boy how to develop them. This was late in 1901, when Jacques Lartigue was seven years old.
A religious boy who became a religious man, he wrote in the same journal, apparently in total seriousness, that by the age of thirteen he knew that God had guaranteed his happiness: "J'aime le Bon Dieu et je sais que je serai toujours heureux grâce à Lui." [I love God and I know I will always be happy, thanks to Him.] And all his life, from earliest boyhood on, he devoted a kind of religious fervor to preserving the happiness which God had granted him so young, consecrating to that service the camera given him by God's surrogate.
The world through Lartigue's camera was composed of antics and inventions, fashion and coquetry, sun, wind, languor, and dreams -- a place where cars were handsome and parasols gracious, where people at leisure sported white trousers on the beach. No one cried there, for every desire was sated with delirious speed, in an amusing suspension of gravity, and in an abundance of feminine beauty. Almost the only reminder of ordinary sorrow was the vast and relentless loneliness of the sea.
Lartigue considered happiness both a grace and a goal. He elected himself conservator of the contentment he recognized as his birthright. When little, he invented what he called an "eyetrap"; by staring widely and then blinking he managed to print a scene in all its liveliness on his brain. A few days after this great discovery, he woke to find the technique no longer worked and immediately fell sick. When he recovered, he resolved to reconstruct this wonderful effect by other means.
He became the caretaker of his own felicity, with three means of preserving it: photography, painting (or drawing), and writing. When the parent who so resembled le Bon Dieu gave him his first camera, he determined to photograph everything, everything, so he would no longer have to regret forsaking the joys of a country house for Paris, but could take them with him tucked into his photographs....
He was fortunate in many ways. He was born at the right place, at the right time, to the right family. The Lartigues had money and ingenuity -- several of the men in the family were inventors and engineers -- plus warmth and a sense of adventure. They scarcely bothered with his education but imbued him with a strong attachment to culture. The talents the boy was born with were encouraged, and the weaknesses he developed contributed in a peculiar way to his original enterprise....
Excerpted by permission of Bulfinch Press, an imprint and trademark of Little, Brown and Company (Inc.). Copyright c 1998, Nathan, Paris, France. Photographs copyright c Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, France/Association des Amis de Jacques Henri Lartigue.
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