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The Intrigue of Lartigue: A Response to Lartrigue’s Year in Color

Mable Yiu

An icon in the world of photography, Jacques Henri Lartigue is most commonly associated with the black-and-white images of his early career. Beginning at the age of eight, Lartigue photographed his family and friends playing outside of his home in Courbevoie, France. As he grew, so too did the scope of his pictorial inspiration, as he became interested in shooting sports events--an experience that would later contribute to the techniques he used in capturing the motion of automobile races and early aviation. Though Lartigue took almost 120,000 photographs over the course of his life, only about forty percent of his work is in color. Martine d’Astier and Martine Ravache explore this dimension of Lartigue’s art and how it consumed him later in his life in “Lartigue: Life In Color.” 

The book touches on the interesting irony of Lartigue’s work, something that Amsterdam’s Foam Fotografiemuseum highlighted in its exhibition earlier this year. Though the artist’s fame is largely attributed to his black-and-white work, he was more intimately connected to the idea of color. As a matter of fact, Lartigue was at the forefront of color photography when the Autochrome Lumière process was first introduced in 1903. Ravache affirms that “this confluence explains how he was able to capture the “revolution” of future seeing before anyone else.” 

Color photography was initially met with great resistance, as it was prohibitively expensive, unestablished, and seen as a “commercial obligation imposed by the illustrated press” that true artists wouldn’t dare to attempt. Given that many of his contemporaries held this belief, it is unique that Lartigue boldly entered the realm of color without hesitation. This lack of calculation or consideration of outside influences is characteristic of Lartigue’s work, as he created on his own in isolation. His photography was a pure representation of his individual thought, as he was inspired by the impulse of life. When being questioned about the motives of his work, his response was indicative of his authentic approach: “What pushes [the shutter]? My eye, my heart, my gut.” 

By Sydney Hartzell