“And now it is up to you, modest photographs, to do what you can…”

Jacques Henri Lartigue’s “Bibi” exhibition was exhilarating and filled with adoration yet unexpectedly left me with a pit in my stomach. Before entering, he sets the stage with the quote, “And now it is up to you, modest photographs, to do what you can—very little, I know—to tell everything, explain everything, make everything be imagined…Everything, even and above all what cannot be photographed.” Diary, 1931. This exhibition focuses on the 1920’s and Lartigue’s marriage with Madeleine Messager (Bibi), his first wife. The chic and social couple indulged in the vibrancy of the 20’s, which eventually led to Lartigue’s demise ending his marriage in 1930. As he defined it, “A period supercharged with luxury, merrymaking and pleasure.” The exhibition begins with photos of Bibi alongside affectionate captions such as, “And without knowing it, I’d started to really love her.” As we learn that throughout his marriage Lartigue begins to humor other women, the love story starts to deteriorate. Bibi is no longer the main focus in Lartigue’s work, instead new women appear and suddenly you are forced to preface this love story with the word tragic. His last words, “My broken heart only wishes her well” left mine broken as well. I had lived through his photos, felt his happiness, passions, and temptations and came crashing down with him as he said his last words to Bibi. A powerful and honest exhibition that did exactly what he wanted it to, to say what it could.

 

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