Life in Color
Jacques Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Born into an elite family in France, Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986) began photographing the world around him on a small glass plate camera at the age of 8. With his privileged upbringing, Lartigue was given the opportunity to photograph his family and friends practicing popular sports and experimenting with the new innovations of the time, such as homemade gliders and racing cars. Although the jovial black and white photographs of his subjects are some of his most recognizable, his use of the autochrome color process created a vibrant new atmosphere for his subject matter. Lartigue’s desire in 1911-1927 to venture into color photography draws from an interest in experimenting with new photographic processes as well as in his practice of painting.

 

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue

With a careful eye for composition, colors, and geometry, Lartigue’s background in painting translates clearly into his photography. In a similar fashion to the impressionists and post-impressionists before him, the colors in his images are generally monotone save for some stark pops of primary colors, and appear dreamy with autochrome’s high grain effect. The autochrome process was introduced in 1907 and, like most photographic technology during this time, brought many limitations: it was relatively expensive, messy to use, and difficult to preserve. He began experimenting with this technique as early as 1911, until he realized in 1927 that, with its lengthy exposure times, to shoot with color was not spontaneous enough to record his fast moving subjects in his instinctive manner of photographing. He would not shoot again with color until 1949 when the first commercial color transparency film, Kodak Ektachrome, was on the market.

His images would remain unknown and nestled in family albums until he was 69 years old when an encounter with curator John Szarkowski gave Lartigue the opportunity for a solo exhibition in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art. Szarkowski states in the 1963 exhibition catalogue, “To show clearly the life of our own time and place demands acute perception, for our eyes grow accustomed to the everyday miracles. But it would seem that the pictures in an old album need only to have been focused and clearly printed, in order to reveal the sense and spirit of their past time.” Szarkowski was enamored by the Lartigue’s active eye which uniquely captured the high energy and spirit of modernity.

 

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Lartigue’s color photographs represent an astounding 40 percent of the 117,577 images held by the Foundation Jacques Henri Lartigue. [via Aperture] Autochromes, however, are difficult to exhibit due to their fragility and his ektachromes required intense restoration before exhibition or being printed into books, such as Lartigue: Life in Color by Martine d’Astier, the director of the Foundation Jacques Henri Lartigue, and Martine Ravanche. Many of his images will not be exhibited due to the difficulties of preserving such old photographic processes, however his color photography has been regularly exhibited over the years, in museums and galleries such as la Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris and Foam in Amsterdam in 2016.

Lartigue’s Life in Color is currently being exhibited at Musée de l’Elysée Lausanne through September 23, 2018, and a variant collection inspired by Lartigue’s color works at Polka Galerie, Memory of Colors, in Paris from September 15 through October 27, 2018.

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