Real street photography can only be successful when there is something poignant or whimsical that is captured in the blink of an eye. Some modern attempts can be rather intrusive and insincere because the process is more about the photographer rather than the subject, but legends such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Helen Levitt instinctively knew what needed to be recorded in the frame. Almost a hundred years ago, a little boy had what Cartier-Bresson and Levitt had, and started photographing his family, his city and his life in general. Photographer JacquesHenri Lartigue fascinated the photography world when his boyhood photographs discovered, giving ordinary people a glimpse into high society French life.
If Jacques Henri Lartigue's photographs look like they take place in a happy land of fancy automobiles and glamorous women, it's because that's exactly what they are. Lartigue was born into an upper class family in France, and from an early age began to meticulously document life around him, arranging the photographs into albums and in effect creating a visual journal of his everyday life.
Most of the photographs he chose to take were of happier occasions: early motor car races, family and friends playing tennis, and Parisian women in fine fashion. To put it simply, he recorded images of anything and everything that was beautiful and right in his world.
While his photographs prove that he certainly had the talent and skill for photography, he felt that painting was his true calling. For the next 50 years or so, he painted and exhibited as a professional artist while still maintaining his camera as a hobby.
It wasn't until he was almost 70 years old that his boyhood photographs were "re-discovered" and published in Life magazine. From there, he gained commissions for different publications, becoming a successful commercial photographer until the end of his life at the age of 92.
What separates Lartigue from any other photographer in history is that there is amusing duality to his images, especially his early photographs. He is the consummate amateur, both eager to record the events surrounding him while at the same time enjoying them with such obvious abandon that they come out the photographs that he took. He is like the child that figures out how to work the camera on your phone and starts to record, not because he might profit from the act but because there is something worth recording before his eyes.
Lartigue was living at a time when technological wonders such as the automobile and the airplane were sparking the imagination of people, and he rightfully captured those revolutionary devices. At the same time, he knew the classic beauty of the elegant woman, and that was something he was naturally inclined to capture.
In sum, Lartigue simply had that curiosity and zest for life that led him to document those moments for posterity. This is something that all photographers and indeed everyone else should aspire to bring into their own lives.
Getting a feel Jacques Henri-Lartigue's photographs won't do with only a handful of images, so head on over to the ArtPages website for over a hundred of his images. Some more images captured by the photographer in the blink of an eye appear in Jacques-Henri Lartigue (Photofile), Jacques Henri Lartigue: The Invention of an Artist and Lartigue's Riviera.