The pleasure that Jacques Henri Lartigue felt taking pictures is directly proportional to the pleasure that we feel contemplating his work. Lartigue, born in an french well-of family at the beginning of the XX century, used to say that he has never taken a picture for any other reason than that at that moment it made him happy to do so. And his snapshots are a proof of that.
Lartigue was a devote of the elegance of black and white, even though he seemed fascinated when he wrote on his diary about the discovering of the color. When he was six years old his father, also photographer, offered him a camera just to please him because he was obliged to stay at bed due to a disease. This is how his health attached him to photography: the fear of losing his life motivated him to capture every moment that worthed it, just like a diary. Furthermore, he assumed that he was frustrated by the idea of not being able to enjoy for a longer time the things that he loved.
Nowadays, professionals and critics use to relate him to the idea of the passage of time thanks to his veneration to the pursuit of joy. That is why the main characters of his work are some of his muses, his wifes: Bibi, Florette and Renée Perle. What made Lartigue specially happy was illustrating the upper French bourgeoisie during the Belle Époque. In spite of belonging to a family of artists, he assured that he didn’t have any influence on his work.
Although he was raised into privilege, he couldn’t achieve a good position as an artist until the age of 69.Thanks to the chance of meeting with John Szarkowski, the photographer made an exhibition at the MOMA. That pushed him immediately the recognition of his work and the world started to know who was him. The second thing that helped him to be known was the publication of a portfolio about him by Life’s magazine in the same edition where the publication announced the death of Kennedy. This is how Lartigue, all of a sudden, became one of the greatest names of the photography of the XX’s century.
What he loved the most was capturing moments dedicated to social leisures. Sports is one of the topics that he illustrated more times. We can see clearly reflected on his pictures his passions for the ski, the golf, the skating and swimming. Specifically those pictures make evident the special vision that he had to take pictures. It is impossible to us to see Lartigue’s pictures of sport just like pictures of sport, they are much more than that. Sometimes they tell us a story, sometimes they just try to be aesthetic.
The most part of the people that we see on his pictures are smiling, but it is not because they know they are being photographed, they are truly happy. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be any reason to take the picture of someone who was faking a feeling that the artist appreciated so much. But there are also cases in which portraits, mainly of women, are serious but not sad. This fact explains that for Lartigue a good moment wasn’t just about laughing and smiling, but being pleased.
In the case of Lartigue, the idea of beauty is present in every snapshot. As we said, his aim was to capture the best moments of his life, so it’s logical that those ones were a synonym of happiness and, thus, beautiful.
The reality of Lartigue’s pictures is only modified by the lens of his camera: he loved to play with the amount of light that came into the lens, the shutter speed and the framing. But he only used those tools to capture anything he wanted to keep inside his memory. He never had the purpose of being fake, simply because he already loved what he was seeing. “The golden rule”, he said, “is “work fast.” As for framing, composition, focus—this is no time to start asking yourself questions: you just have to trust your intuition and the sharpness of your reflexes”.
Lots of his shots give us a different vision of what he was making eternal: a detailed eye of a woman, a long shadow or just someone lying on the beach. He shows us scenes of everyday’s life from a beautiful perspective teaching us, at the same time, how to love our routines.
Apart from that, we might say that the “reality” for him was not the same for everyone at that time. Incredibly, during his period of life – between 1894 and 1986 – not one but two World Wars took place. It is hard to understand how he and his work could be so impervious to the horror that humanity was living. So we can say that yes, his pictures are quite realistic but just for an upper-class person at the epoche.
The sensation of feeling as the time goes by is transmitted in most of Lartigue’s photographies. He captured moments that the human eye can’t see (at least for more than a few seconds) like the splash of a person diving into the water, the precise moment of a car’s start or the flow of a dress. That is exactly what he meant when he said that “What’s so incredibly amusing with photography is that while seemingly an art of the surface, it catches things I haven’t even noticed. And it pains me not to have seen things in all their depth”.
But my job here is done. Now it’s you time to have a good moment, as he would like to, contemplating his pieces of memory, his pieces of joy. Anyway, it has no sense to read this without knowing about what I am talking about because, quoting the photographer himself, “photography is a magic thing. A thing that has mysterious odors, a little strange and frightening, something one quickly grows to love”.