History is important to gain a good insight into the developments in
photography and ending up in today with electronic equipment.
Jacques-Henri Lartigue was the first photographer to show that equipment
comes second to imagination. He was a great individualist taking photographs
of “…everything which pleases me, everything I am keen on, which delights or
amazes me. The rest I let pass.” Famous lensman Richard Avedon called
Lartigue “The most deceptively simple and penetrating photographer in the
history of that art.” I can only agree.
Lartigue was born into an upper middle class family in Courbevoie, near
Paris. He was a child prodigy, who began to photograph in 1901 at age seven
when he received his first camera from his father, who was also an amateur
photographer. This camera was no auto everything point and shoot, but a
large 13 x 18 cm box on a wooden tripod. He is reported as having said, “Now
I will be able to make portraits of everything, everything. I know very well
that many, many things are going to ask me to have their pictures taken, and
I will take them all!” And he did, keeping a diary illustrated with
sketches, in which he recorded the details of each shot. Just the same as I
encourage you all to do today.
The amazing aspect of J-H’s photography was that he was able to show
movement in his images. Remember that no one was there to teach this young
boy, and the cameras, lenses and films were not fast enough to allow him the
luxury of fast shutter speeds, yet he could find that split instant in time
to stop the action. He would capture the subject, mid-frame, as if posed in
mid air waiting for the shutter to click. Truly remarkable stuff for a young
boy. And he was young. J-H was born in 1894 and has been resident in the
Great Darkroom in the Sky since 1986, yet his influence keeps on.
Fortunately for us, he took plenty of photographs, but the enormity of his
collection was not discovered till 1963, by which stage he had over 200,000
photographs catalogued in albums! On his 90th birthday he was still snapping
away and had a major exhibition in London. His photograph collection he also
donated to the French nation. In addition to his black and white
photography, Lartigue made several short films in 1913 and 1914.
What J-H Lartigue gave us, however, in addition to all those photographs was
two fold. The first is called ‘Anticipation’. As a photographer wanting to
record action subjects, you have to anticipate where the action is, and get
yourself ready to record the height of the action. Be that tennis, soccer or
golf, the great action shots are at the zenith. It is a lot easier now,
because these days even compact cameras have shutter speeds faster than poor
old J-H’s first camera, and the top of the line SLR’s have shutter speeds as
fast as 1/4000th of a second combined with motor drives exposing multiple
frames per second. This makes action photography today much easier than at
the turn of the century. However, there is still the need for
“anticipation”, Lartigue’s great gift.
The second gift from Lartigue is his diary. He recorded all the pertinent
details, so that he could reproduce the same concepts later. Photography is
always a learning process, and the quickest way to learn is to have records
so that you can see what went wrong, or how you got it right!
So let’s have a crack at some “action pix” this week. Take a motorcycle - it
leans into the corner and you can see that it was in motion. Or even better,
riding through a puddle, with the spray coming up from the wheels. People
jumping convey movement too, or skipping rope, water skiing, running,
swimming or diving, like Lartigue’s shot of the tennis player, or other
physical activities. Anticipate the action and get that action shot.
I am not saying it is easy, but it is well worth the practice. You can set
the camera on Auto - but anticipate for a great shot.