Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894–1986) created an impressive body of photographs throughout his lifetime; however, he took many of his most famous pictures during his childhood and youth. These images offer an exuberant portrait of a remarkable child artist. Lartigue’s talents began to develop quickly after he received his first camera for his seventh birthday. Lartigue used his camera to document the idyllic moments of family and friends at leisure and at play. Through his photographs, Lartigue was a youthful witness to the prewar Belle Époque in France.
Despite Lartigue’s prolific and influential life’s work, many critics deem the work from his childhood to be some of the most important, due to its inventiveness and power to captivate. His experimentation with inventive techniques—including double exposure, stereographic photos, and capturing moving objects—influenced many modern photographers.
One day, as a child, the delicate youngest son of the eighth richest family in France had an epiphany. "All of a sudden, an idea began to dance in my head, thanks to which I'll never be bored or sad ever again: I open my eyes, then I close them, then I open them again, wide, and hey presto! I capture the image with everything - the colours! Life size! And what I hold onto is something living, that moves and feels ..." At the age of seven he was given a camera and his world was captured for all to see.
It is his photography albums, over 150 of them, 14,500 pages of images, and his diaries and notes that intrigue us now. Not only because he was such an inveterate, tireless recorder of his world, but because the life he lived is itself so compelling.
Photography was for most of his life a private obsession. Not until 1962, when some of Lartigue's albums were shown by an intermediary to John Szarkowski, the hugely influential curator of photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art, was serious interest in Lartigue's work kindled. Success was almost instant.
At 17 he wrote: "Now and then, I feel full of sadness about growing up. I would like to be able to stay as I am (I feel so full of happiness, youth, and confidence). Sometimes I would even like to be a little boy still."
He kept everything, photographed everything, the camera always with him. Perhaps it was not so much that Lartigue spent his life taking photographs, as that he photographed his life, in order to keep hold of it, to prove that it was real.
Jacques Henri Lartigue, self portrait, my hydro-glider with propeller, 1904
Jacques Henri Lartigue, Dede diving with water ring, 1911
Jacques Henri Lartigue, Mardi Gras with Bouboutte, Louis, Robert and Zissou, Paris, 1903
Jacques Henri Lartigue, my cousin Bichonnade, Paris, 1905
Jacques Henri Lartigue, my collection of racing cars, 1905
Photograph of Jacques Henri Lartigue taken by his father, Bois de Boulogne, 1903