As early as six years of age, the young Jacques Lartigue showed a strong interest in photography. He developed his taste for this “eye-trap” alongside his father, who was himself, a banker and engineer, and most noticeably, an amateur photographer. In response to his son’s craze, he offered him his very first camera: a 13 x 18 cm chamber made of wood. From then on, Lartigue wouldn’t cease to capture the world around him: Paris, Chamonix, as well as the French Riviera, where he would permanently settle in 1960. Throughout his life, he successfully attempted through his lens, to seize these moments of joy and retain them forever.
Obsessed by the passage of time, he took notes of the daily weather. Similarly, he tirelessly compiled and classified his images in a total of 135 albums, which are currently kept at the Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue. He chronicled his life as a privileged child to an artist who gained notoriety later on in life, through 117,000 photographs, among which almost one third are in colour.
In 1912, he finally got a taste of colour photography, which had fascinated him since the tender age of 5. Created by Lippman, the auto-chrome process was patented and commercialized by the Lumières brothers. Using a Klapp Nettel 6x13, he perpetuated in 87 stereoscopic glass plates his memories as a young, oblivious man, sensitive to female beauty, with a passion for sport and other outdoor activities. However, the strain involved in the shooting process didn’t match with his own wish; to “catch something marvellous that happens in a split-second”. Consequently, from 1927 until 1948, Lartigue would only devote himself to black and white photography. Finally, at almost 60 years of age, the technical progress allowed him to grab the fleetingness of a moment in colour. Using a Rolleiflex 6x6, he mainly favoured the square format, which remained pertinent to the contemporary eye up until the 70s, while also shooting in 24x36 with his Leica. His photographs are not so much imbued with the energy of those first auto-chromes anymore; rather, they express a feeling of peace and fulfilment.
This same period of time also witnessed Lartigue’s rise to fame. Indeed, while he did gain some notoriety as a painter in the 30s, his second trip to the United-States in 1962 and more particularly his meeting with John Szarkowski, back then a young director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, marked a turning point in his career. Enthused by Lartigue’s photographs, Szarowski offered him a solo exhibition at his museum the following year, entitled “The Photographs of Jacques Henri Lartigue”. It was then that Lartigue added his father’s first name, Henri, to his own. With Florette by his side, his muse and model, he became the internationally renowned photographer whom we know of today. In 1979, he donated the entirety of his body of work to the French state, which beyond its informative aspect remains an ode to the joie de vivre.