He still lives in the same fifth-floor walkup apartment in Paris where he was born in 1920. This past Jan. 20, Raymond Cauchetier celebrated his 98th birthday. Early this month, my wife, Carol, and I visited him and his lovely Japanese wife, Kaoru, in their Rue Taine apartment near the Place Felix Eboue at the Paris Metro stop Daumesnil. These days, Raymond does not often leave the apartment. He and Kaoru have been lobbying their building to install one of those two-person stairway-shaft elevators so he can get out more often.
Cauchetier has spent most of his life as a very active, peripatetic photographer, first as a young soldier in Indochina for the French Air Force. In this photo from 1940, he is a 20-year-old “Troufion” (buck private):
Later, in Paris, Raymond was a photographer of “photo-romans” along with colleague Raoul Coutard. This led Raymond to a decade-long career as the pre-eminent “photographe de plateau” (set photographer) for many of the iconic films of the Nouvelle Vague. Among the directors he worked with were Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Jean-Pierre Melville, Marcel Camus and Claude Chabrol. He describes his photographic journey on his website.
I met Raymond eight years ago, after I became fascinated with his self-published book Photos de Cinema, a volume filled with his unique perspective of his work for the movies. He rarely shot the same angle as the movie production camera; he was not interested in just “covering the scene.” He shot few exposures of any given scene with his Rolleiflex twin-lens camera. Instead, he watched, looking for that singular moment that captured the essence of the scene.
In fact, many of the most memorable stills from Raymond’s New Wave films don’t exist as images in the finished movie. The famous shot of Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo walking along the Champs-Élysée in Breathless was an impromptu shot of them casually talking as they waited for the upcoming shot.
Many of Raymond’s most memorable photographs are not of the cast, but of the directors, cameramen and crew between setups. Many of these are included in another book, Raymond Cauchetier’s New Wave.
After our first meeting, I was able to help Raymond present an exhibition of his work in the lobby of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater. My interview with him was published here on March 25, 2012.
In fact, I have blogged about many aspects of Raymond’s work, which extends far beyond movie photography. With Kaoru by his side, he devoted 25 years of travel and exploration to beautifully documenting the sculpture of Europe’s Roman-style churches. He made more than 25,000 color photographs of grand cathedrals and remote parish churches, images often made from eye level on a scaffold. I included a sampling of this work as a kind of Christmas card in two posts.
Although Raymond’s movie work will always be his best known, I admit to a special fondness for the church sculptures. It is truly an encyclopedic achievement, one that should be acquired by the French government as national patrimony. So far, neither the government nor major French publishers like Flammarion have shown an interest. Sadly, such is the nature of historic, documentary art photography in today’s marketplace.
Three years ago, on the occasion of an exhibition of Raymond’s New Wave work at London’s James Hyman Gallery, the BBC interviewed the artist. He speaks French, but the video is subtitled in English. This is one of the rare videos of him I have found. It is a good, three-minute introduction to the wealth of his photography.
And here is a slideshow of more than 50 images from some of his signature credits:
Finally, here is a short video about a 2010 exhibition that was presented at the James Hyman Gallery:
Raymond continues to work daily with Kaoru in their apartment. When Carol and I visited him this month, we asked about any recent exhibitions.
Raymond asked us to visit Galerie Joseph on rue des Minimes. This gallery is exhibiting his work alongside that of two other Nouvelle Vague photographers, Georges Pierre and Philippe Garner, through mid-September.
This was the first time I had the opportunity to see Raymond’s work in context with that of his colleagues, and it left little doubt as to why his is the work that has been so embraced by collectors around the world.
In the Los Angeles area, Raymond has also had an exhibition at the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station. The Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library has 122 of his photographs, and they can be viewed by appointment.
Just before Carol and I left the apartment to have lunch with Kaoru at the L’Europeen, Raymond said we should plan to come to Paris for his centennial birthday in 2020. We will be there.
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