The Genteel
March 7, 2021


Photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue, 1926.

Not many people today will remember - let alone, have heard of - the publication, Holiday. However writer Michael Callahan re-introduced many readers to this monthly travel magazine with his article, "A Holiday for the Jet Set" in this year's May issue of Vanity Fair.

The "travel bible", as it was hailed by the publishing industry in the 1950s and 1960s, introduced post-war America to exotic destinations and propelled the ideal of jet set travel and lifestyle from 1946 to the magazine's demise in 1964.

Under the direction of master duo, editor Ted Patrick and art director Frank Zachary, Holiday had achieved "one of the most accomplished writing, photography and art rosters ever assembled": E. B. White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Joan Didion, Edward Steichen, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Slim Aarons were among the contributors. In short, the publication was the aspirational and inspirational travel and leisure guide during its reign.

In the spirit of Holiday's beautiful covers, essays, artwork and photography - and in time for the summer travel season in the Northern Hemisphere - I revisited four classic photography books that are sure to tickle your travel fancy. After all, photographers Jacques Henri Lartigue, Slim Aarons, Robert Doisneau and John Witzig are famed for their photographs that move, inspire and indulge.

[Holiday] was the aspirational and inspirational travel and leisure guide during its reign.

Everyone from Russian oligarchs to the Eurotrash set, from Hamptons vacationers to student backpackers would agree that a trip to France's Cȏte D'Azur is a must-do summer destination. The region's popularity is due, in part, to famed French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986), who captured his privileged leisure moments on the Riviera as young as 11 years old with his first camera.

Lartigue's Riviera (La Cȏte D'Azur de Jacques Henri Lartigue), first published by Flammarion in 1997 with words by journalist Mary Blume, is a collection of Lartigue's photographs that "chronicle the life he shared on the Riviera with his beautiful first wife Bibi, during the 1920s, his companion Renee Perle, in 1930-31, and Florette whom he married in 1942."

Among this collection of autochrome photographs are many relaxed and delightful moments like those of Lartigue's first wife Bibi in profile dining at Eden-Roc Restaurant in Cap D'Antibes (1920) with the shimmering sea in the background, or a shot of her in the company of two beautiful girlfriends hugging and throwing their legs up in the air on a beach in Cannes (1927).

There are also more sensual and risqué photographs - like of Bibi and a friend's exposed derrieres, lying completely naked tanning on a dock (1926). And you can really feel the heat of summer coming off the pages from the photograph of a gentleman posing slyly in nothing but a white, bulky speedo and sunglasses on the streets of Cannes (1947).

Photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue, 1920.

Each photograph can be analysed with a looking glass by those curious about French resort fashion (one-piece knit bathing suits and swimming caps), style (the makeup and short-cropped, crippled dos) and leisure in the 1920s, '30s and '40s in the Riviera's hot spots of Nice, Cannes, Antibes and Monaco.

While there are many loyal Cȏte D'Azur regulars, there are also those who prefer to spend their summers in Italia. American Slim Aarons, a regular contributor to Holiday and Life magazines, kept returning to the country after his post as a combat photojournalist in Rome during World War II. In the preface to Slim Aarons: La Dolce Vita (Abrams), author Christopher Sweet writes: "It was in postwar Rome that Slim Aarons realized his professional mission in life: to photograph, in his now famous phrase, 'attractive people who were doing attractive things in attractive places.'"

And that he did with great success. La Dolce Vita is a collection of Aarons' colour photographs organised by Italy's most beautiful and exclusive locales. And the photography wasn't exactly "street" - he kept intimate company with the world's royalty, Hollywood stars, and Italy's numerous principessas and contessas.

You can kill several hours devouring all 240 pages viewing the likes of: Bettina Graziani in a bikini tugging a sailboat to shore in Costa Smeralda in 1964; Tennessee Williams on the via Veneto outside the Western Excelsior Hotel in Rome (c.1948); Princess Colonna in the grand gallery of the Colonna family palace; Giorgio de Chirico in the Caffé Greco in Rome; Louis Armstrong's wild tour stop in the capital in 1948; Orson Welles on a film set in Venice; Gianni Versace on a boat in front of his villa on Lake Como (1983); and Laudomia and Alessandro Pucci stretched out on the lawn before the Pucci family's country house in Val D'Elsa (1991). The details of these and the rest of the photographs in La Dolce Vita I'll leave for you to discover alone.

Photograph by Slim Aarons, 1964.

When dreaming of summer travel, it would be impossible not to mention southern California. Another world-famous French photographer, Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) is best known for his iconic black-and-white photographs of Parisian streets and life, so it's surprising and yet completely amusing that a trip to Palm Springs - of all places - happened in 1960.

Doisneau received an invitation from Fortune magazine to cover America's hottest travel destination at the time - that oasis of luxe hotels and resorts in the Palm desert. Robert Doisneau: Palm Springs 1960 (Flammarion) presents a series of colour photographs chronicling this "playground for the rich and famous" that once was "a world of swimming pools awash with bobbing beehives, martini-fueled parties, and relaxed games of golf, all unfolding against a desert backdrop."

While Palm Springs isn't particularly picturesque, Doisneau captured some peculiar and juicy photographs: countless Cadillacs on the palm tree-lined streets (reflective of America's car culture); a couple of dames draped in fur wraps at a party; a middle-aged lady with hair rollers and in white shorts painting a stone plant holder green; and many pool scenes against backdrops of epic mountain peaks.

And finally, if your summer travel preferences are the complete opposite of jet set, John Witzig's A Golden Age: Surfing's Revolutionary 1960s and '70s (Rizzoli) delivers an off-the-beaten-path visual experience. Australian photographer and surfer, Witzig was part of the formative age of surfing - from late 1960s to early 1970. He captured "the surfers, the draft-dodging back-to-landers, the radical developments of board design, and, of course, the waves, from Australia to Honolua Bay - of surfing's most thrilling period."

Photograph by John Witzig.

These images are more than just "surfing photography"; Witzig shot with a small Nikon water camera, from the beach and from the water - while swimming out and surfing along the others. The results are amazing: there are close-ups (with perspectives from every which way) of dudes riding spectacular waves from the bays of Australia to Hawaii; carefree lounging moments like a group shot of surfers hanging out on the porch of a rented house in Torquay or two young shirtless men in jeans trekking barefoot trough a country creek in Arcadia, Australia.

There are also photographs of beautiful lookout points - like the photograph of three spectators with their backs to us, on a cloudy morning, observing the waves crashing at Byron Bay. And the book's cover image - of a surfer holding up a board and looking down from a high point on the rocky breaks below - was actually taken by Witzig in Ericera, Portugal. This collection of photographs from Witzig's archives tempts you to throw away all cares and go off on your own surfing adventure.

As temperatures heat up this summer, today's jet setters are off around the world to seek out their own idyllic vacation memories. Though when the summer's over, we can always rely on the beautiful archives of travel photography to fly us back to wherever we want to be, whether that's amongst the crashing waves of the ocean, driving a vintage Cadillac through Palm Springs, or laughing with girlfriends as the sun shines down on la Côte D'Azur.



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