Photo of Jean Seberg in Breathless by Raymond Cauchetier.
On Jan. 20, 2020, the set photographer of many of the landmark films of the French New Wave, Raymond Cauchetier, will celebrate his birthday in the apartment in which he was born. Yes, Mr. Cauchetier will be celebrating his centennial. Though no longer able to easily navigate his fifth-floor walkup, he continues with his wife, Kaoru, to administrate his vast archive.
I have written several posts about Cauchetier’s work for directors such as Truffaut and Godard during the 1960s, after Cauchetier returned to France from military service in Southeast Asia. His work in the movies comprised just one decade of the 10 that constitute his amazing life. I have visited Raymond and Kaoru in Paris several times since 2012, when I assisted with the exhibition of his photographs at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and, subsequently, with his donation of much of that work to the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library.
Last July, I wrote about visiting Raymond and Kaoru with my wife, Carol, after we attended the Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna.
For several decades after he worked in film, Raymond traveled with Kaoru from Scandinavian Europe to North Africa to photograph the interior and exterior sculptures of dozens of Christian churches — mostly Romanesque, as the purist in Raymond much preferred the stately and less convoluted lines of this earlier style to that of the often intricate, grandiose Gothic.
When Notre Dame de Paris burned on April 15, the world grieved. That enormous edifice is more than the grandest of Gothic cathedrals; it is the beating heart of French Catholicism, its religious and secular history, and a veritable museum of Gothic architecture and statuary. It was begun by the bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, in 1260. In the mid-19th century, it underwent a major renovation that was led by Viollet-le-Duc. This video documents the centuries of construction:
We all have images of the burning and ravaged cathedral in our heads. To counterbalance that, here is a recent video tour of Notre Dame made by John Kong. It fixes in time what a chock-a-block trove of art filled the interior — a far cry from the reductive spaces of the Romanesque art that so occupied Cauchetier’s photo mission.
During the Christmas season of 2010, I blogged about Raymond’s photos of the Nativity and The Adoration of the Magi. It does begin with a photograph of the tympanum and portal of Notre Dame.
The fire of April 15 immediately made me think of Raymond’s documentation of the sacred sculptures and the loss that we all feared. Though Notre Dame was not one of the churches he photographed most extensively, he sent me a photo gallery of that work, mostly of the portal and exterior. I’d like to share some of that with you here.
There is no single civic, religious or architectural edifice in the United States — or possibly in all of Europe — that so embodies the history, culture and politics of a nation as Notre Dame does for France. As forensic investigators, contractors, art historians, politicians and clergy descend on the damaged edifice, we still do not know the full extent of the loss. Nor, despite Macron’s vow to rebuild it in five years, do we know its future.
The Sixth Annual Ibero-American Platino Awards