“It may take a foreigner to discover someone else’s national heritage,” said Richard Avedon after editing the first book by Jacques Henri Lartigue, Diary of a Century, a phenomenal success published in 1970. Although the Diary seven years after the illuminating exhibition on Lartigue’s work curated by John Szarkowski at MoMA, Avedon was right about one thing: France recognized and celebrated this early genius only after he and Szarkowski introduced Lartigue to America and to the rest of the world.
Born in 1894, Lartigue grew up with the camera in hand; almost all the photographs that made him famous in his seventies were taken when he was eighteen. Around the age of six or seven, he had in a sense presaged his future obsession, imagining that he could capture images with his “eye-trap”, or “an invention from the world of fairies”, which would allow him to record and keep them with a simple blink.
His passionate photographer Henri had already introduced Jacques to the mysteries of the darkroom and, after a year or two, had given his son the first of many cameras, from which he rarely separated, as evidenced by his remarkable production. Although Jacques was a fragile and often sickly child, he had an extraordinary imagination and was sensitive to the world around him. “Everything beautiful, curious, strange or interesting gives me such a pleasure that I am mad with joy,” he writes in his diary. “Especially since, thanks to photography, I can keep so many.”
Born in a comfortable context, supported by his wealthy family but surrounded by inventors, sportsmen and daredevils of both sexes, Lartigue was both a son of the Belle Époque and a witness of the modern world at the height of his intensity and ferment. Family members and friends were perpetually intent on running, jumping, flying, driving or darting into the future, very often in fantastic improvised vehicles.
“Simone Roussel, Rouzat, 1913”. Photo by Jacques Henri Lartigue, © 2020 Ministère de la Culture – France / AAJ HL.
© Photographie J.H. LARTIGUE © Ministère de la Culture – France / AAJHL
Inspired by the stop-motion work of pioneers of experimental photography such as Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey, Lartigue recorded the action, indeed, according to the new critical biography of Louise Baring, Lartigue: The Boy and the Belle Époque (in April for Thames & Hudson), it was often he himself who provoked it. He wrote in his autobiographical memoirs of 1975: “I like small unexpected events”, like this shot of his cousin Simone Roussel who falls from a homemade scooter. “They happen very quickly, but photography manages to preserve them.” There is no doubt that these wonderful incidents are the thing that fascinated Avedon the most the first time he saw Lartigue’s work. In the afterword by Diary of a CenturyAvedon defines him as “the only apparently simpler and more penetrating photographer in the short history of this so-called art”. As a master of built spontaneity, Avedon recognized Lartigue’s talent for authenticity, no matter how much care was needed to achieve it.
Vince Aletti is a photographic critic and curator. He has lived and worked in New York since 1967. Collaborator of “Aperture”, “Artforum”, “Apartamento” and “Photograph”, he was co-author of “Avedon Fashion 1944-2000”, published by Harry N. Abrams in 2009, and has signed “Issues: A History of Photography in Fashion Magazines”, published by Phaidon.
From Vogue Italia, n. 835, March 2020
“Maybe it takes a foreigner to discover someone else’s national treasure,” Richard Avedon said, after editing Jacques Henri Lartigue’s first book, the phenomenally successful Diary of a Century, in 1970. Even if the Diary followed John Szarkowski’s eye-opening Museum of Modern Art show of Lartigue’s work by seven years, Avedon had a point: it wasn’t until he and Szarkowski introduced Lartigue to America – and the wider world – that France recognized and celebrated his precocious genius.
Born in 1894, Lartigue grew up with a camera in his hands; nearly all the photographs that made him famous in his seventies were taken before he was eighteen. At six or seven, he anticipated his future obsession, imagining he could capture images with his own “eye-trap” – “an invention straight from fairyland” – that would allow him to record and retain pictures in the blink of an eye.
His father, Henri, an avid photographer who had already introduced Jacques to the mysteries of the darkroom, gave his son the first of many cameras a year or two later and, on the evidence of his remarkable output, he was rarely without it. Although Jacques was frail and often sickly as a child, he was wildly imaginative and alert to the world around him. “Every lovely, curious, strange or interesting thing gives me such pleasure that I am mad with joy,” he wrote in his diary. “Even more so since I can preserve so much, thanks to photography.”
Privileged and indulged by his wealthy family, but surrounded by inventors, sportsmen, and daredevils of both sexes, Lartigue was both a child of the Belle Époque and a witness to the modern world at its most vivid and exciting. His family and friends were forever running, jumping, flying, driving, or otherwise hurtling forward into the future – often in fantastic, improvised vehicles.
With the stop-motion work of experimental photographic pioneers like Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey as inspiration, Lartigue recorded the action and, according to Louise Baring’s terrific new critical biography, Lartigue: The Boy and the Belle Époque (out in April, Thames & Hudson), often instigated it. “I enjoy little mishaps,” like this shot of his cousin Simone Roussel tumbling off a homemade scooter, he wrote in his 1975 memoirs. “They happen quickly, but the photo preserves them.” Clearly, these marvelous accidents were what most charmed Avedon when he first saw Lartigue’s work. In his afterword to Diary of a Century, Avedon called him “the most deceptively simple and penetrating photographer in the short … history of that so-called art.” As a master of staged spontaneity, Avedon recognized Lartigue’s genius for authenticity, no matter how carefully he arrived at it.