Death of Raymond Cauchetier, the eye of the New Wave

The great still photographer, author of the famous photos ofBreathless by Godard and Jules and Jim de Truffaut, died Monday at the age of 101 as a result of the Covid.

A couple on the Champs-Élysées, his cigarette in his hand, she, short hair, laughs as they listen to him. Another photo shows them kissing. Both in the dazzling freshness of youth. If these images mean nothing to you, it is because you have been cryogenized for half a century and have just reappeared in our world. Otherwise, you know that Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg embody through these photos the mythical couple of the New Wave and the essence ofBreathless.

These two scenes have never appeared in the film, however. It was Raymond Cauchetier, then still photographer, who provoked them: “The sequence of the meeting had just been shot by Godard at the top of the Champs-Élysées by the cameraman hidden in a post office stroller. But the curious were so numerous that I preferred to take the actors all the way down the avenue to a still deserted place, to reconstruct the scene, and summarize it. », Wrote a few years ago.

The one we nicknamed “the photographer of the New Wave »Died Monday February 22 in Paris at the age of 101 as a result of the Covid. Last September, he had the pleasure of exhibiting his famous photos at the Galerie de l’Instant in Paris. In spite of the memories which faded, he was told about this adventure which had nevertheless occupied him only about ten years: “In fact, it was all amateurish. We were discovering a cinema different from the one before; the key word was improvisation. The actors had to improvise their text and I the photos. I didn’t really know what to do so I applied the rules of reporting without knowing anything about cinema.

His first photos, he had taken them at the age of 14, thanks to a camera offered by his mother. Two years before he had the click by attending the colonial exhibition of 1931. From the window of the kitchen of the small apartment of the 12th century where he was born and which he never left, he dreamed in front of the reconstitution of the temple of Angkor Wat. And did not stop wanting to go immortalize the true. He will realize his dream by traveling through Indochina and Cambodia as a young photographer hired by the Air Force. On his return, the cinema will ask him for the set photos. The New Wave was starting, he was in the right place at the right time, working there from 1958, earning his stripes of “New Wave photographer“.

Before becoming the icons we know, these images remained in the shadows for a long time. They were not intended to be shown to the greatest number and were just used to promote the film. Moreover it is the producer ofBreathless who hired the neophyte Cauchetier. He went on to tell a Jean-Paul Belmondo, “very accessible, very nice“In front of Jean Seberg,” the star at the time», Which had a little more trouble with the improvisation wanted by Godard.

The photographer kept all his archives in the small living room of his apartment in the 12th arrondissement, next to the bedroom where he was born in 1920. His wife Kaoru had archived everything, the binder of contact sheets fromBreathless, stored next to that of Jules and Jim, of Soft skin, ofA woman is a woman, of Stolen kisses. The little story of a lively and revolutionary, spontaneous and experimental seventh art unfolded there.

A passion for Romanesque art

In 1992, the couple had received a visit from John Bailey, president of the Academy of Oscars. After others, the American had also fallen under the spell and, by organizing an exhibition in Los Angeles, validated in turn what became obvious: the photos of Cauchetier taken off set were indeed those which had contributed to the fame of films beyond our borders. “So New wave“. The photographer was then 92 years old and a life spent under the celebrity radars. He did not take offense at this belated recognition. He had learned to assert his copyright in this area where vagueness reigns and remained a virulent defender of his work. When we met him, Raymond Cauchetier always wanted to show his “ other binders », By dozens, also carefully labeled, containing 30,000 photographs devoted to Romanesque art. A passion, far from the cameras and the glamor, which had occupied him the rest of his life as a photographer.


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