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"Jacques-Henri Lartigue Photographs: Automobiles"
1999-08-14 until 1999-10-14
Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland, OH, USA United States of America

As a complement to the summers Bugatti exhibition, the Cleveland Museum of Art presents Jacques-Henri Lartigue Photographs: Automobiles, gathering about 25 photographs made between 1904 and 1931 that feature cars (including Bugattis) and car racing. The show runs August 14 to October 20, 1999, in gallery 105. Admission to this exhibition is free.

Perhaps the most charming image is Dans ma chambre, collection de mes autos de courses (In my room, collection of my racing cars). Made in 1905, it depicts, from floor level, a simulated starting-line of toy metal cars at the foot of the nine-year-old photographers dressing table. Another shows automobile designer Ettore Bugatti with young sons Jean and Roland (both sitting in Baby Bugatti racing cars). A number of photographs show elegantly done-up women peering through windshields or leaning on gleaming fenders. Lartigues photographs in general and his automobile work in particular, says Hinson, display an uncanny knack for `getting it, for conveying the atmosphere of a place, the personality of a subject, the excitement of a moment. As an additional complement to the Bugatti exhibition (on view July 18-September 19), a number of Lartigues photographs depict Bugatti automobiles.

Outside a small French circle, Lartigue was largely unknown until he was in his seventies, when his work from the first decades of the century was discovered by the Museum of Modern Art and featured in a popular and acclaimed solo show in 1963. Lartigues comfortable financial circumstances had never motivated him to produce large numbers of prints for sale and he appears never to have had any driving ambition to attain renown as a photographer, so his photographs sat quietly out of sight for decades while he pursued other interests. To this day, most of the vintage prints from this period reside in the same fragile albums Lartigue assembled as he made the photographs. These are maintained by the organization Les Amis de Jacques-Henri Lartigue, which has provided the modern prints shown here, made from original negatives. >The popular and critical heyday of Jacques-Henri Lartigues photography happened about 50 years after he stopped taking photographs. Born the son of a wealthy financier, Lartigue (1894-1986) began using his fathers camera in 1900, when he was six years old. Two years later Jacques-Henri was given the camera he had been borrowing and began developing his own prints and storing them in albums. The Lartigue family circulated among high-society sporting types, and Lartigues images document that life: auto races, airplane club meetings, strolls in the park, visits to film sets, and trips to the beachscenes populated for the most part by fashionable young ladies and athletic young men. His work is seen today as perhaps the most genuine artistic expression of the wilfully carefree spirit often associated with the 1920s. After a few exhibitions in Paris in the middle 20s, Lartigue decided he would devote his time to painting, and thereafter made very few photographs. During his active period as a photographer, Lartigue spent a lot of his time photographing automobiles. Indeed, his single most famous image is Automobile Delage, taken at the French Grand Prix in 1912. Curator of Contemporary Art and Photography Tom Hinson, who organized the exhibition, describes the photograph: It conveys a remarkable impression of velocity--the wheels of the speeding car are elliptical and tilted forward, their spokes blurred with motion, and the road itself is but a streak of grey. The dynamic effect is a result of the cameras focal plane shutter, which passes a horizontal stripe of light across the film from the bottom of the image to the top as the picture is taken--the portions at the top of the frame are exposed slightly later than those at the bottom, so moving objects appear to lean in the direction of their motion. In this case, the camera has panned from left to right but not quite as quickly as the passing car: thus the automobile and its occupants appear to bend forward while the spectators in the background, effectively traveling right to left relative to the moving camera, seem to tilt in the opposite direction.

Perhaps the most charming image is Dans ma chambre, collection de mes autos de courses (In my room, collection of my racing cars). Made in 1905, it depicts, from floor level, a simulated starting-line of toy metal cars at the foot of the nine-year-old photographers dressing table. Another shows automobile designer Ettore Bugatti with young sons Jean and Roland (both sitting in Baby Bugatti racing cars). A number of photographs show elegantly done-up women peering through windshields or leaning on gleaming fenders. Lartigues photographs in general and his automobile work in particular, says Hinson, display an uncanny knack for `getting it, for conveying the atmosphere of a place, the personality of a subject, the excitement of a moment. As an additional complement to the Bugatti exhibition (on view July 18-September 19), a number of Lartigues photographs depict Bugatti automobiles.

Outside a small French circle, Lartigue was largely unknown until he was in his seventies, when his work from the first decades of the century was discovered by the Museum of Modern Art and featured in a popular and acclaimed solo show in 1963. Lartigues comfortable financial circumstances had never motivated him to produce large numbers of prints for sale and he appears never to have had any driving ambition to attain renown as a photographer, so his photographs sat quietly out of sight for decades while he pursued other interests. To this day, most of the vintage prints from this period reside in the same fragile albums Lartigue assembled as he made the photographs. These are maintained by the organization Les Amis de Jacques-Henri Lartigue, which has provided the modern prints shown here, made from original negatives.


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