This weeks Friday Legend is none other than the timeless classic of Jacques Henri Lartigue.
“I take photographs with love, so I try to make them art objects. But I make them for myself first and foremost - that is important.”
Jacques Henri Lartigue was born in Courbevoire to a wealthy family. He started pursuing photography at the early of 7, where he used to photograph family and friends at play and in daily life. He also photographed many famous sporting events including automobile races such as the Coupe Gordon Bennett and the French Grand prix. He was also privileged to photograph early flights by aviation pioneers including such legends as Gabriel Voisin, Louis Bleroit, Louis Paulhan and Roland Garros.
The majority of Lartigue’s photos were taken in a stereo format, however he did shoot images in all formats and media including glass plates in various sizes, early autochromes and film 2 1/4” square and 35mm. His greatest achievement was his set of 120 huge photograph albums, which compose the finest visual autobiography ever produced (“l’album d’une vie”)
He began to concentrate on painting in his middle age and it was this way that he earned his living although he did continue to keep written and photographic documents through his life. At the age of 69, his childhood photographs were discovered by Charles Rado of the Rapho Agency, who in turn introduced him to John Szarkowski, the then curator of the MoMa in NewYork which led to a retrospective of his work at the museum.
From this, there was a photospread in Life Magazine in 1963 which coincidentally commemorated the death of JFK 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, when until 1974 he was commissioned by the newly elected President of France Valéry Giscard d’Estaing to shoot an official portrait photograph. The result was a simple photo of him without the use of lighting utilising the national flag as a background. 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.
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. He received for this book a mention at the Rencontres d’Arles Book Award in 1971. Next year he was the festival’s guest of honor. An evening screening was presented by Michel Tournier ” “Jacques-Henri Lartigue & Jeanloup Sieff” . In 1974, his work was included in the group exhibitiion ” Filleuls et parrains”. The movie “Lartigue, année 90”, by François Reichenbach is shown in 1984. At the same time his work “Les 6 x 13 de Jacques-Henri Lartigue” is exhibited in the festival. In 1994, “J.-H. Lartigue, l’amateur de rêve” by Patrick Roegiers, was one of the evening screening, and a last exhibition is presented: “Lartigue a cent ans”.
Although best known as a photographer, Lartigue was a capable if not especially gifted painter and showed in the official salons in Paris and in the south of France from 1922 on. He was friends with a wide selection of literary and artistic celebrities including the playwright Sacha Guitry, the singer Yvonne Printemps, the painters Kees van Dongen, Pablo Picasso and the artist-playwright-filmmaker Jean Cocteau. He also worked on the sets of the film-makers Jacques Feyder, Abel Gance, Robert Bresson, François Truffaut and Federico Fellini, and many of these celebrities became the subject of his photographs. Lartigue, however, photographed everyone he came in contact with, his most frequent muses being his three wives, and his mistress of the early 1930s, the Romanian model Renée Perle.