Jacques Henri Lartigue
The word amateur has two meanings. In its classical sense it is the antonym of professional, and refers to those who pursue a problem for love rather than for the rewards the world may offer. In this sense the word often identifies the most sophisticated practitioners in a field; many of photography's greatest names have been amateurs as pure as the crocuses of spring, and many others, though mercenaries during the week, have done their best work on weekends.
The other and more popular meaning of the word identifies one who plays at his work: one not only less than fully competent, but less than wholly serious. (The professional is allowed to be less than competent, but never less than serious.) This second variety of amateur is generally handicapped by ignorance of the craft and the tradition of the medium, and is therefore wholly dependent on his or her native, God-given, unique talent and sensibility. This is almost never enough.
There are, however, rare occasions on which exceptional talent, the right horoscope, and an unexploited new technique all coincide at a point occupied by one as naive and unprejudiced as a child. In such cases the results can be astonishing.
In 1911 Jacques Henri Lartigue was no merely as unprejudiced as a child; he was a child. The picture reproduced here was made when Lartigue was fifteen, but it was not one of his early works; by the time he was ten he was making photographs that anticipate the best small-camera work of a generation later.
Lartigue was a privileged child, and he made the best of it. From the subjects of his pictures one would assume that the life of his family was dedicated wholly to the pursuit of amusement: the beach, the racetrack, beautiful woman in elegant costumes, heroic motor cars and daredevil drivers, flying machines, and all manner of splendid --- including photography itself. Even if Lartigue had been an ordinary photographer, his document of these things would be precious, but he was in fact a photographer of marvelous talent. He caught memorable images out of the flux of life with the skill and style of a great natural athlete --- a visual athlete to whom the best game of all was that of seeing clearly.
Lartigue had no perceptible effect on the development of twentieth-century photography, since his work was virtually unknown until a half-century and more after the best of it had been done. When his work came to light, it seemed to confirm the inevitability of what had happened in photography much later, when more mature and sophisticated photographers came to understand what the child had found by intuition.
from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski
Here, 126 striking duotone pictures, with captions by Lartigue himself, portray his privileged lifestyle with family, friends, and the leisure class, including remarkable shots of fashionable women of the belle Epoque.
In Jacques Henri Lartigue: The Invention of an Artist, Kevin Moore puts to rest the long-held myth of Lartigue as a naive boy genius whose creations were based on instinct alone. Moore begins by exploring the milieu in which Lartigue became a photographer, examining his father's crucial role in teaching him the latest techniques as well as the larger context of the turn-of-the-century craze for amateur photography.
- I take photographs with love, so I try to make them art objects. But I make them for myself first and foremost --- that is important. If they are art objects at the same time, that's fine with me.