Monday, January 31, 2011

One/One-Thousand: Jacques Lartigue

Portrait of Jacques Lartigue by Jeanloup Sieff, 1972.

The images of Jacques Henri Lartigue are black-and-white odes to the birth of photography and the infinite beauty it captured, and then encouraged. I first came across the photograph below while reading Seeing Through Clothes by Anne Hollander (a must for anyone interested in the representation of fashion, from body to fabric):

Hollander used the 1911 photo to illustrate the way that photography absolutely changed fashion. Prior to the common proliferation of photographic images, many women wore clothing that was complicated, or rather took time for the eye to comprehend, arrange, and reconcile. They could afford this complication and still be stylish because the garments were seen in person, in a three dimensional view, or they were shown illustrated in the flat plain, a method of display that allowed for much tweaking and finagling. The result of the snap of a lens, however, favored linear, geometric, lean shapes. As such, sartorial lines crisped, silhouettes slimmed, and elegance became a matter of proportion rather than of fabric or materials. Lartigue was one of the first to capture this transitional phenomenon on film.

When he was seven, Lartigue's wealthy parents gifted him a camera. The new technology fascinated his young mind and soon he was rarely without a shutter. He captured everything that caught his eye: car races, swimmers splashing, family outings, and stylish strangers. The young boy not only snapped the shots, but even developed his images on his own in a darkroom in his home. One of Lartigue's favorite subjects were the women who paraded through the streets of Paris on their morning strolls with coy yet certain determination to be seen by the others doing the same. The youngster created beautiful images of these street scenes and is a forebear of the ubiquitous street style photographers now leading the fashion press. He's the granddaddy of current photographers like Bill Cunningham, Tommy Ton, Scott Schuman, and Yvan Rodic.

Lartigue was an archival prodigy of sorts, snapping photos, developing them, and mounting them in huge albums for all to see before most kids his age were aware of anything past their own noses. For years though, Lartigue's photos went completely unnoticed by the majority. It wasn't until he turned a wise 69 when the lifelong photographer was traveling in America, that his work was discovered on a large scale. The collection of nearly 120 photo albums he had kept since his childhood came to the attention of then curator of the MoMA Mr. John Szarkowski, and Lartigue soon found himself on fashion assignments for Vogue, showing in Life Magazine, and shooting with fellow photog Richard Avedon. His images are now some of the most revered in the annals of photography.

For all of his status and regard, one of Lartigue's enduring traits throughout his nearly 90 years as a working photographer, was his infectious and pure joy for the art. In the below series of clips from an interview conducted in the '80s, Lartigue's twinkling eyes could very well still be peering out from the diminutive frame of a seven year old boy, enthralled with his new magic image capturing device.

Videos from a BBC documentary produced in 1983. Photos found through a Google image search of "Jacques Henri Lartigue" and represent the photographer's work from the 1910s through the 1930s.