There is something deeply fascinating about vintage photography. Maybe because we are not used to seeing the world in black and white, or maybe because they have the power to transport us to a whole other era with just one glance, but photographers who gained notoriety in the first half of the 20th Century are still widely admired.
French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue is one of them. His earliest photographs, picturing his life during the 1920s, are featured at The Photographers’ Gallery’s latest exhibition Jacques Henri Lartigue: Bibi.
Centered around Madeleine Messager – Bibi – his first wife and mother of his only child, it is the first international showcasing of this series of photographs, unveiled for the first time at the French photography festival Les Rencontres d’Arles earlier this year.
…Lartigue’s wife is always the focus of his photography…
Lartigue’s photographs are presented in chronological order and divided in three sections. Beginning in 1918 when he met his future wife Bibi, the exhibition ends in 1930, the year before the couple’s divorce. The years in between picture the young couple enjoying a life of leisure activities and travelling, both alone and with friends.
While the first section includes Bibi’s wedding to Jacques in 1919 and the birth of their only son Dani in 1921, the second section begins in 1922, when the couple slowly becomes part of the bustling scene of art and high society in Paris: showing Bibi on a boat in Cannes or on a double-decker bus in London, Lartigue’s wife is always the focus of his photography.
…Bibi is no longer the main subject in Lartigue’s pictures…
In the third section however, that spans from 1926 to 1930, the couple’s marital decline is clearly witnessed. Bibi is no longer the main subject in Lartigue’s pictures; instead, she is often in the background, represented with other women or in the middle of a crowd. A perfect representation of it is the photograph Bibi, Marseille, 1928: picturing Bibi and a big boat in the distance, she is confined in a small corner of the frame, and visibly out of focus.
Although the series of photographs can at times look like an old family album, mainly because it partly is, the quality of the pictures and the influence Jacques Henri Lartigue had in his field make this exhibition showcasing his earliest work a must-see.