LE PASSE COMPOSE
Les 6x13 de Jacques-Henri Lartigue

by Jacques-Henri Lartigue (1894-1986)

20 July 2015

Jacques-Henri Lartigue was an amateur photographer. He called himself a painter by profession, a writer too, but mostly, he was a rich person with a lot of leisure time. A big part of which he recorded on camera and then compiled those souvenirs in numerous family photo albums.
Notwithstanding an obvious understanding of composition and light, his photos were none the less taken for pleasure, in a very care free manner, giving them a very beautiful spontaneous quality often missing in more “serious” photographers work.

In the 1920’s, the Nettel 6x6 camera was popular because it could easily be converted into a 6x13 format, giving the photographer a much larger negative to play with.
We know most of Lartigue 6x13 images ended up cut out, re-framed on the “subject matter”, leaving out all undesired elements, in other words, all the space where life expressed itself freely.
To see them in full negative, with the juxtaposition of the central subject (more often than not posing for the camera) and all that is around, is what makes the 6x13 photos of LE PASSE COMPOSE so interesting.
What is usually out of frame is here confidentially revealed, giving the picture a narrative and dramatic quality that was not always intended. Now, all the surrounding superfluous, spontaneous, unconscious elements tell a (different) story: the out of focus shadowy shapes and figures in the foreground, the left out driver or spectator standing by, the distorted darker sides creeping in….
As if the center framed happiness, in all its focus and clarity, suddenly seemed isolated and undermined by the surrounding shadowy reality, foretelling in a way, the end of that cocooned idle way of life.
But then again, isn’t this nostalgic “insouciance” a big part of what makes his photos so appealing?