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Thread: Jacques Henri Lartigue and his camera

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    Lindolfi's Avatar
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    Jacques Henri Lartigue and his camera

    Jacques Henri Lartigue was an extraordinary photographer. He was a recreatonal photographer and did not have to earn his money with photography, being born in a wealthy family. At a tender age he produced good photographs, which he continued to do until he died. His photographs were often beautiful and spontaneous. Many pictures were taken handheld, although the cameras were large and heavy.

    One photograph of Lartigue is very well known. It depicts a racing car and people along side the road.


    The picture was taken with an ICA camera in 1912 on a 4x5 inch glass plate with an f4.5 lens, fast for those days.


    This photograph is so appealing because of its distortions. The man at the side of the road is leaning to the left, while the hind wheel of the car is deformed to an oblique ellipse. The car is only half visible and together with the deformations it gives artistic power to the image: the speed of the car seems bigger because of the distorted wheel, as though it was a cartoon. The car is speeding out of the image. In the mean time, the left bystander falls sideways in a silent underwater world with which the race driver has no contact. Even the spokes of the wheel are bent in the driving direction, if you look carefully.

    What produced these beautiful and expressive deformations? Was the photographer such a genius that he did it on purpose with the camera, or was it a coincidence? Can we do this in PhotoShop or in a wet darkroom?

    The answer is rather simple: the effect came about because Jacques Henri used a large camera which he panned to follow the car (but not quite fast enough) and he used a focal plane shutter of which the slit moved from top to bottom. In this way we see different moments in time projected on different parts of the film. In the image the slit of the focal plane shutter moved upward because of the bottom-up projection of the lens.
    Both the leaning of the bystander and the deformation of the wheel and spokes can be explained in this way, demonstrated by this animation (which I wrote in MatLab). The animation should speak for itself.


    While making the animation, it appeared that I needed about 65% of the panning speed of the camera necessary to follow the car. That turns out to produce the correct combination of the distorted wheels and leaning angle of the man.

    With a modern camera with faster focal plane shutter you either get a blur of the bystanders, or everything is undeformed, as shown here


    Much less interesting! On this site a project is shown to build and use slow focal plane shutters.

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    Re: Jacques Henri Lartigue and his camera

    Excellent! I knew that the picture was distorted because of the shutter, but it is nice to see the "live" things. Bravo!

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    Re: Jacques Henri Lartigue and his camera

    Lindolfi...Marvelous!!

    "he used a focal plane shutter of which the slit moved from top to bottom. In this way we see different moments in time projected on different parts of the film"

    ... is there anything like this floating around today... or does anyone know how to do a shutter hack to get this effect...this shutter is an absolute must have for me.

    cheers, annie

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    Re: Jacques Henri Lartigue and his camera

    Thank you, Lindolfi. This is fascinating.

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    Re: Jacques Henri Lartigue and his camera

    A truly excellent post, Lindolfi. Welcome to the board and I hope you'll be a frequent contributor!

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    Re: Jacques Henri Lartigue and his camera

    Exactly what I taught my students this past semester about how a focal plane shutter works, using Lartigue's image as an example.

    This post explains what happens far better than me. Thank you.
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

    http://www.walterpcalahan.com/Photography/index.html

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    Re: Jacques Henri Lartigue and his camera

    Thank you so much for posting this and the "corrected" version. which is also visually fascinating.
    Ansel Adams writes that he asked Lartigue if the effect had been intentional, and was assured that indeed it was! Not bad for a 10 year old kid.
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

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    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Re: Jacques Henri Lartigue and his camera

    A couple of the things I find interesting about Lartigue are, first, how many of his iconic "Modern" photographs were taken in and around Paris during the same years many of Atget's iconic photographs were taken there - although they would seem to be almost from two different historic periods.

    And secondly, as good a photographer as Lartigue was, much of his reputation and place in photographic history as the "naïve primitive" child of Modern photography, as a sort of savant, is in good part a myth invented by the Museum of Modern Art to bolster their mission of defining Modernism - he wasn't quite as unique as some would make out. (and indeed, as I recall, some of the well know facts about him are pure myth).

    That said, he is certainly an interesting and fascinating photographer (a friend of mine had him to stay once in Montreal when he came over for an exhibition - and as well as taking photographs of their sons during the stay -which he later sent them - he was, apparently, a delightful old gentleman full of stories)
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

    www.photo-muse.blogspot.com blog

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    Re: Jacques Henri Lartigue and his camera

    I wonder why we don't see more examples of this from that era of photography.
    Regards
    Bill

  10. #10

    Re: Jacques Henri Lartigue and his camera

    Quote Originally Posted by tim atherton View Post
    And secondly, as good a photographer as Lartigue was, much of his reputation and place in photographic history as the "na´ve primitive" child of Modern photography, as a sort of savant, is in good part a myth invented by the Museum of Modern Art to bolster their mission of defining Modernism - he wasn't quite as unique as some would make out. (and indeed, as I recall, some of the well know facts about him are pure myth).)
    Tim,

    You beat me to it. A fascinating book that details Lartigue's photographic education and intent is "Jacques Henri Lartigue The Invention of an Artist" by Kevin Moore.

    Lartigue was immersed in cutting edge photography at the time as was his father. They had the latest and best equipment and subscribed to many periodicals. No naivete there... That said JH Lartiguei remains one of ny favorite photographers.

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