Florette, Megève, 1965 Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France /
AAJHL
Florette, Megève, 1965 Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France / AAJHL

Jacques-Henri Lartigue's rarely seen colour archive

The photographer who influenced the look of Wes Anderson's films gets a rare showing of his colour work

The French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue shot his first few frames when he was seven, and went on to capture a wide variety of images right up until his death in 1986 at the age of 92. 

“Like many others from privileged backgrounds, he studied painting at the Académie Julian in Paris,” writes the photo historian Ian Jeffrey in The Photography Book, “but his true success came through photography, partly because he was working within the society which was his subject, but also because of his unerring eye for small events: walking in the rain, boarding a car, saying farewell.”

 

Florette, Piozzo, 1960 Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France / AAJHL
Florette, Piozzo, 1960 Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France / AAJHL

Lartigue remains widely admired. US film director Wes Anderson has openly acknowledged the photographer's influence. There are Lartigue prints pinned to the wall of one scene in Anderson’s 1998 film Rushmore, and the surname of the titular character in his 2004 work, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, is taken from a nickname Lartigue had for his brother.

 

Florette dans le Morgan. Provence, mai 1954. Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France / AAJHL
Florette dans le Morgan. Provence, mai 1954. Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France / AAJHL

Almost all of Lartigue’s well-known images are black and white, yet of the 117,577 photographs in the French photographer’s archive, around 47,000 were shot on colour film.

A new exhibition, opening at the Foam photography museum in Amsterdam on 22 January, displays a wide selection of these rarely seen colour images, shot on both the early French autochrome film, as well as the more popular US-made Ektachrome stock.

 

Les mains de Florette Brie le Néflier, 1961 Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France / AAJHL
Les mains de Florette Brie le Néflier, 1961 Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France / AAJHL

Most of the photos on show at Jacques Henri Lartigue: Life in Colour, come from the photographer’s own albums, and so fit with the show’s autobiographical title.

For some gallery-goers the thrill of these images comes from the insight they offer us of the refined good life that was on offer to a certain wealthy section of European society, decades ago.

 

Bibi au Restaurant d'Eden Roc Cap d'Antibes, 1920 1965 Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France / AAJHL
Bibi au Restaurant d'Eden Roc Cap d'Antibes, 1920 1965 Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France / AAJHL

However, viewers should not overlook the skill with which Lartigue chose and framed these photos, picking these snatches of high bourgeoisie leisure. These may be private images, yet they are far from simple weekend snaps.

“Lartigue’s oeuvre offers a light and cheerful perspective on life in France in the early 20th century,” say the show’s curators. Now, we can all appreciate that joie de vivre in a full chromatic spectrum.

 

Florette. Vence, mai 1954. Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France / AAJHL
Florette. Vence, mai 1954. Photographie J. H. Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture - France / AAJHL

For more on Lartigue, his predecessors, contemporaries and antecedents, order a copy of The Photography Book, here.