I was going to interview Jacques-Henri Lartigue on July 3, 1984 at 2 pm for Vogue Hommes magazine when, at 1.30 pm, I received a phone call, my father had died. So I never met Lartigue and he has always fascinated me. At the time, he was obsessed by painting and only wanted to be recognized (he was 80) as a painter of bright flowers… when he was known worldwide as a black and white photographer with a 100 000 negatives. Later on, I spent an evening with Henri Cartier Bresson, I drove him home and he invited me for a last whisky at his rue de Rivoli apartment. All he wanted me to look at, were his drawings…these two amazingly successful photographers had something else in mind obviously!
The exhibition at MEP, Maison européenne de la photographie, in the Marais, is one of the jewels of this summer.
Lartigue is mostly known for his black and white period photographs. He was born in 1894, (in the XIX th century!) and became the witness of so many moments of French life. The Belle Epoque, the Entre deux guerres, Cuba before Castro, and more recently, he photographed movie stars such as Fellini, Fanny Ardant, Cecil Beaton, and Giscard d’Estaing who chose him as official photographer, when he was elected President in 1974.
When he died in 1986, he was painting flowers the way he was photographing them as autochromes on glass plaques in the 20’s.
A hundred of his colour photographs from 1912-1927 and more recent series of beautiful portraits of his third wife, Florette, are shown here. They are not only esthetically beautiful, they convey a sense of happiness and lightness that is very needed today.
His father bought him a camera when he was 7 and he never gave up his appetite for life and for fun. His successive wives obviously inspired him immensely, starting with Bibi, the daughter of Paris opera director, André Messager, whom he married in 1919 and later in 1942, Florette. They travelled to Noirmoutier and Cannes, to Oak Creek Canyon and to Cuba. Then to Opio in Provence in the sixties. He called Florette “ma petite fleur des champs” (my little wild flower) and certainly made her look sexy and beautiful in every picture. When he died at 86, he had been taking photographs for 79 years. These color pictures had never been shown before and, you know, some of them reminded me in their naive way, of the contemporary British photographer Martin Parr! (until August 23)
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