Raymond Cauchetier was a French photographer, known for his work as the set photographer from 1959 to 1968 on many films of the French New Wave. His photographs are an important record of the New Wave directors at the beginning of their careers, and of their unconventional and groundbreaking production methods. A 2009 profile of Cauchetier in Aperture magazine declared that his photographs "are themselves central works of the New Wave."
Cauchetier was born in Paris on 10 January 1920. His mother worked as a piano teacher. She raised him as a single parent; he never met his father. Cauchetier dropped out after completing grammar school. He escaped from Paris by bicycle and joined the French Resistance after the Fall of France in 1940.
After World War II ended, Cauchetier enlisted in the French Air Force as the First Indochina War was unfolding. He began his career in photography there serving as a combat photographer in Vietnam. He consequently purchased his own Rolleiflex
camera and utilized it for most of his career. Cauchetier was conferred the Legion of Honour by Charles de Gaulle, in recognition of his battlefield work.
Cauchetier remained in the region after his service in the Air Force concluded, taking pictures of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. He gifted a set of 3,000 pictures to Norodom Sihanouk, which were ultimately destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. Cauchetier met director Marcel Camus, who was in Cambodia to shoot the film Mort en fraude (Fugitive in Saigon)
, in 1957. He was subsequently recruited as the set photographer.
Upon Cauchetier's return to France, he failed to find work as a photojournalist. He was instead employed to take pictures for photo-romans, a kind of photographic graphic novel, by publisher Hubert Serra. Through Serra, Cauchetier became acquainted with Jean-Luc Godard, then working as a film critic and hoping to become a filmmaker himself. Godard hired Cauchetier as the set photographer for his debut film, À bout de souffle
(1960), a breakthrough both for Godard and for French cinema.
Other films Cauchetier worked on include Léon Morin, prêtre
, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, and Jules et Jim
(1962) by François Truffaut. His photographs of the production in 1960 of Godard's film, Une femme est une femme
, captured off-camera moments of Godard and lead actress Anna Karina. Godard and Karina married the following year.
Raymond Cauchetier stopped working as a set photographer in 1968 due to the job's low pay. He continued publishing photographs, but his images from the New Wave are considered by critics to be his best work.
Amendments to the copyright law of France in the mid-2000s granted photographers the rights to pictures they had captured as a paid employee. Consequently, many of Cauchetier's previously unseen works were able to be released. His collection titled Photos de Cinéma
was published in 2007. Six years later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted an exhibition of his work in Los Angeles. He went on to publish the artist's book Raymond Cauchetier’s New Wave
Raymond Cauchetier turned 100 in January 2020. In September of that year, an exhibition of his notable photos was held at the Galerie de l'Instant in Paris. He died five months later on 22 February 2021 in Paris. He was 101, and was diagnosed with COVID-19 during the COVID-19 pandemic in France prior to his death.
Taking a photojournalist’s approach to the job, he instead shot Belmondo and Seberg in action, making carefully framed, richly textured photographs that captured moments of play and spontaneity. His pictures also showed Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard at work, offering future film historians a rich trove of behind-the-scenes images.
“In assembling his movie-centered still-photo dossiers, he created perhaps the greatest and most revealing photographic documents ever made of films in progress,”
film author Richard Brody wrote in a 2015 New Yorker article. “Cauchetier is the auteur of set photographers.”
Mr. Cauchetier photographed Godard pushing Coutard in a wheelchair, enabling the cinematographer to shoot a low-budget tracking shot; another photo showed the director with a canvas-covered trolley cart equipped with a hole for the camera, which Godard used to shoot on the busy Champs-Élysées.
In one of his best-known images, he photographed Seberg kissing Belmondo on the cheek, while the actor gripped a cigarette and gazed into the distance. Although it was inspired by a sequence in “Breathless,” the image never appeared in the film.
“That day, to avoid the crowds, Godard shot from up high on the fifth-floor of a building,”
Mr. Cauchetier told The Guardian
in 2015. “You could just make out this minuscule couple parting with a chaste kiss in front of a newspaper stand. I went down afterwards and said I wanted to do a close-up of a kiss because it summed up their characters so well. They obliged. It lasted five seconds.”
Source: The Washington Post