Jacques Henri Lartigue: Bibi

Mandy Zlotek

Jacques Henri Lartigue: Bibi

Location: Eglis Des Trinitaires

Bibi is an exhibition by Jacques Henri Lartigue that focuses on his relationship with his wife, Madeleine Messager, also known as Bibi. Over the course of 12 years, Lartigue photographed his adventures with his wife and documented their relationship through their courtship, marriage, children, and eventual downfall of their marriage.

The majority of the exhibit is arranged in chronological order, beginning with when Lartigue first met Bibi. The photos show their flirtation and joy of being with one another. They are presented as a lively, adventurous couple, partaking in athletic and social activities with friends.  As the exhibit progresses, Lartigue focuses more on Bibi, taking extremely intimate photos of her in their home and with friends. Bibi almost always looks poised, with an expression of total love and happiness in her face. As the years pass by, Bibi’s joyful expression fades, and the portraits of her show her isolated and alone, which is most likely due to the falling apart of their marriage. There are also photos of more women, whom Lartigue was most likely having affairs with. The exhibit comes to a close with the death of Bibi’s father, which ultimately led to her leaving Lartigue. Overall, the exhibit presents the story of the birth, life, and death of love.

One of the most notable things about Lartigue’s photos is his attention to action and the human body. He brilliantly captures people jumping, flipping, and playing sports, which gives the exhibit a more energetic quality than if it had only included portraits. On that note, his portraits are incredibly intimate, and one feels that they are stepping into a scene that perhaps they should not be looking at, such as a photo of Bibi on the toilet. In pictures like these, one might question Lartigue’s morals. These are very personal photos of a woman he claims to have dearly loved, but cheated on multiple times, and presents them for the whole world to see, which further begs the question of how much he really loved her. The images capture the moods of those within them, and it shows the contrast between young love and the heartache, loneliness, and bitterness of the end of the marriage.

One particular image that struck me was a photo of Bibi sitting on the beach. It broke the system that Lartigue was following of black and white images. He presented it in strong red tones on light blue matting. The top of the photo features Bibi’s head, and beneath it and to the side is another photo of the rest of her body in a swimsuit, lying in the sand. It is a distorted image that seems to separate her into one part body, one part mind. Her expression is vacant and hidden behind sunglasses, but her body is posed quite elegantly. On the lower left is an awkward, vacant space. I find that it is a good summation of Lartigue’s perspective of his wife: Full of love, but broken, and desiring something unknown.

An abstract arrangement of Bibi on the beach.

An abstract arrangement of Bibi on the beach.

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