A Tale of Two Photographers

It’s hard to believe that photographers Jacques Henri Lartigue and Francesca Woodman belong to the same human species. You can see their work at an often overlooked Amsterdam museum, FOAM, less than a mile from the Rijksmuseum at Keizersgracht 609.

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It’s in two canal houses which were refashioned completely into galleries with a glass wall at the back looking into the formal garden, worth seeing in itself (though perhaps not in February).

Lartigue’s Colored World   Lartigue, born in 1894, lived a good long life and recorded as close to every delicious moment of it that he could. Beginning at age eight, he took thousands of photographs of his own life. His gaze is always outward, on a luminous world, often of the women he loved most in glowing settings, often with flowers. This show focuses on his less known color work, and presents examples of the journal he kept for 70 years.  Lartigue always noted the weather and the highlights of the day, sometimes including a photograph or two. He didn’t receive recognition for his work until he was in his late sixties, and he was in high demand in his last years as a fashion photographer.

Bibi au Restaurant, from FOAM website                                                Bibi au Restaurant, from FOAM website

 

Francesca Woodman, From Space, 1976 © Betty and George Woodman from FOAM website

Francesca Woodman, From Space, 1976
© Betty and George Woodman
from FOAM website

Woodman’s Black and White Self Portraits      Woodman also began making photographs early, at age thirteen. Her enigmatic first self portrait conceals her face under her long hair. She is half turned away from us, but reaching toward us to detonate the camera’s shutter. For all her nude work later, this desire to conceal and reveal, to repel and engage, seems like an undercurrent in her work. When she photographs herself with a nude model rather than alone, his portly jolliness is an almost ridiculous contrast to her intensity. I’m not a sophisticated enough viewer to appreciate all of Woodman’s subtleties, but it’s not hard to see how much she positions herself in decaying environments, and the ramping up of images which include self abuse. Her work was recognized relatively early, including a McDowell residency. Just after it, Woodman ended her life.

These two artists both took their own lives as an important subject, but they were oriented differently in fundamental ways. On the surface, Lartigue worked within his own life, but he looked outward at his lovers and the world; Woodman’s only subject was herself in many iterations. The story has to be much more complicated than that, and one would have to know more to see through the mystery. Perhaps Lartigue was simply born into a happy, privileged Parisian home with good genes, and Woodman suffered disruption every year or two of her early life, perhaps with bad genes. Whatever the reasons may be, one person drank every day to the full, taking his last photo in his eighties, and another jumped off a building at age 22, having hardly tasted life.  It’s worth pondering why, and looking at their work perhaps gives some responses.

 

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