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Remembering Raymond Cauchetier Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

27 February 2021

French photographer Raymond Cauchetier who documented the making of New Wave films died on Monday in Paris, the city of his birth, from Covid-19. He was 101.

He is survived by his Japanese wife Kaoru.

His mother was a piano teacher who raised him alone in the small fifth-floor walk-up where he was born. He kept that apartment his whole life.

It was where he could see a replica of the Angkor Wat temple lit up at night at the Bois de Vicennes. He was 11, looking at it through the kitchen window and dreaming of one day seeing the real thing.

His education ended in grammar school, joining the Resistance when Germany invaded Paris in 1940. He joined the French Air Force after the war and became a combat photographer in Vietnam.

He was in his thirties before he owned a camera. Like other photojournalists of the era, he bought a Rolleiflex. He used it for most of his life.

He was awarded the Legion of Honor by Charles de Gaulle for his work from the Asian battlefield.

In 1959, he shot stills for Godard's debut film Breathless starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.

After the war ended for the French in 1954, he remained in Southeast Asia, photographing in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In 1956, the Smithsonian exhibited his work in _Faces of Vietnam, which toured the U.S.

He did finally arrive at Angkor Wat in 1957 and created 3,000 photos of the place. He gave the collection to Premier Norodom Sihanouk but it was subsequently destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.

Returning to Paris, he was unable to find work as a photojournalist so he illustrated popular photo novels with his images. Through a publisher of those novels, he met Jean-Luc Godard and became a set photographer taking anonymous publicity shots of New Wave cinema from 1959 to 1968.

In 1959, he shot stills for Godard's debut film Breathless starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. Her peck on his check is a classic still from that assignment.

He also shot stills for Jules and Jim by François Truffaut, catching Jeanne Moreau and her loves Oskar Werner and Henri Serre running across a foot bridge. In all, he documented two dozen New Wave films before leaving the low-paid job in 1968.

Those photos were forgotten for nearly 40 years but when a change in French copyright law gave photographers the rights to photos taken as salaried employees, Cauchetier claimed the old prints.

In 2007, Cauchetier published them in Photos de Cinema and in 2007 Aperture ran a profile on him. In 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences exhibited his work in Los Angeles and in 2015 his art book Raymond Cauchetier’s New Wave was published.

But Cauchetier's photographs were not the standard publicity shots. He didn't set up next to the camera operator to mimic movie stills but pointed his lens at the production crew, including the director. He captured off-set action as well, revealing the humanity of the actors taking a break, the reality behind the romance.

They weren't so much publicity stills as documentary photographs.

"I'm always surprised when one of my photographs is seen as emblematic, symbolizing not just the New Wave but also a whole era, even sometimes France itself," Cauchetier wrote in one of his books.

But still images have that power, like the vision of Angkor Wat from a kitchen window by an 11 year old boy who did not have a camera.

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