Born in Courbevoie, France to a wealthy family in June 13, 1894, Jacques Henri Lartigue started taking photographs when he was seven. He photographed his friends and family at play – running and jumping; racing home-built race cars; making kites, gliders as well as aeroplanes; and climbing the Eiffel Tower. He also photographed sport events, such as the Coupe Gordon Bennett and the French Grand Prix, early flights of aviation pioneers such as Gabriel Voisin, Louis Blériot, Louis Paulhan and Roland Garros. He also captured in his camera, tennis players such as Suzanne Lenglen at the French Open tennis championships. Many of his initial, famous photographs were originally captured through stereo, but he also produced a vast number of images in all formats and media including glass plates in various sizes, autochromes, and film.
While he sold a few photographs to sporting magazines such as La Vie au Grand Air, during his middle-ages he concentrated on painting which also was his source of income and living. However, he continued taking photographs and maintained written journals about them throughout his life. At age of 69 his boyhood photographs were 'discovered' by Charles Rado of the Rapho agency who introduced Lartigue to John Szarkowski, curator of the Museum of Modern Art, who arranged an exhibition of his work at the museum. Life magazine published the photos in 1963.
This exhibition gained him fame and exposure to the industry. He then got opportunities to work with several fashion magazines and became famous in other countries as well. In 1974 he was commissioned by the newly elected President of France Valéry Giscard d'Estaing to shoot his official portrait. The result was a simple photo, simple lit, using the national flag as a background. He was rewarded with his first French retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs the following year, which paved way for more commissions from fashion and decoration magazines.
Although best known as a photographer, Lartigue was also a good painter. He often showed-up in the official salons in Paris and in the south of France from 1922. He was friends with a wide selection of literary and artistic celebrities including the playwright Sacha Guitry, the singer Yvonne Printemps, the painters Kees van Dongen, Pablo Picasso and the artist-playwright-filmmaker Jean Cocteau. He also worked on the sets of the film-makers Jacques Feyder, Abel Gance, Robert Bresson, François Truffaut and Federico Fellini, and many of these celebrities became the subject of his photographs. Lartigue, however, photographed everyone he came in contact with. His most frequent muses were his three wives, and his mistress of the early 1930s, the Romanian model Renée Perle.
Jacques Henri Lartigue was obviously fascinated by movement and the camera’s ability to freeze and record passing moments and his approach to photography is quite different to that required by painting. He made little or no attempt to control or compose his pictures in an ‘arty’ way. While the preoccupation of many contemporary photographers was to make their photographs appear as much like paintings as possible, Lartigue’s pleasure lay in the uniquely spontaneous qualities of the camera. In addition to the more commonplace black and white images of the period, he also experimented with color photography and produced some equally evocative images using the auto chrome process.
His first book, Diary of a Century was published in collaboration with Richard Avedon. The book was mentioned at the Rencontres d'Arles Book Award in 1971. The next year he was elected as the festival's guest of honor. He continued taking photographs throughout the last three decades of his life, finally achieving commercial success. An evening screening was presented by Michel Tournier "Jacques-Henri Lartigue & Jeanloup Sieff" .
In 1974, his work was included in the group exhibition " Filleuls et parrains". In 1984, the movie "Lartigue, année 90", by François Reichenbach was released. At the same time his work "Les 6 x 13 de Jacques-Henri Lartigue" was exhibited in the festival. One of the evenings screening was "J.-H. Lartigue, l'amateur de rêve" by Patrick Roegiers, in 1994, and a last exhibition was presented: "Lartigue a cent ans".
Jacques Henri Lartigue died on September 12, 1986. American director Wes Anderson is a fan of Lartigue's work, and has referenced it in his films. A shot in Rushmore is based on one of his photographs, and Lartigue's likeness was the basis for the portrait of Lord Mandrake in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.