Vroooom!

You don't have to be very old to take exciting photographs. The French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue took this amazing picture of a racing car in 1912. He was only 6 when his rich ``Papa'' gave him his first camera in 1902. This was 84 years ago. He has been taking photographs of everything every day ever since. His pictures are a kind of diary of his life. He also kept a written diary. In it he recorded in words -- and little drawings -- the people and things he had photographed, just in case the photos didn't come out! In those early days, processing photographs was risky. But many of his photos were very successful.

Mostly, his first pictures (and many of his later ones too) were of his family and friends. And they were almost always in the middle of doing something energetic. What Jacques loved was to click the shutter of his camera just when somebody or something was in midair: his nanny, Dudu, throwing a large ball in the air and waiting open-mouthed to catch it. Or two uncles having a pillow-fight sitting on a long branch across a pool. (Uncle Raymond fell in.)

One time, Jacques's cousin Bi-chonnade lept down some stone steps for him: His photograph catches her ``flying.'' His older brother, nicknamed ``Zissou,'' was always giving Jacques unusual reasons for taking pictures: when he jumped off a wall holding an open umbrella -- his ``first attempt at flight,'' or when he floated in the pool in his newly invented ``tire-boat.''

And there were the family races downhill in homemade racers. Jacques's camera recorded the screeching brakes, the dust rising in billows.

He was fascinated by real automobiles too, and kites, balloons, and experimental flying machines. These were all new and wonderful during his child-hood. His pictures are full of them.

The photo above was taken by Lartigue when he was 16. He hadn't outgrown his love of photographing quickly moving objects! ``I was very happy,'' he wrote later, ``to get this close-up of a racer in a Delage thundering by at full speed.''

The blurring helps to give the feeling of speed. Sometimes people think that photographs show just what your eye sees. But this picture doesn't. The spectators seem to be falling over, and the car's wheel is completely out of shape, like a squashed fruit.

These effects were caused by the camera Lartigue used. It had a shutter that operated from bottom to top. This, and the fact that he moved his camera from left to right, following the car, produced the ``squashed'' wheel. A modern camera might produce a more ``real'' picture, but Lartigue's racer looks far faster because of this strange effect.

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