Sometimes the cinema images that most stick in our heads are not from the films themselves.

One of the most enduring photos from the early French New Wave is of Jean Seberg, mouth open in a toothy laugh, walking down the Champs-Elysées alongside a gangling, fedora’d Jean-Paul Belmondo. This became the much-loved poster image from Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960), but it is not from the film, or even a still: it was shot between takes by Raymond Cauchetier, the man who belatedly became famous as the defining photographer of the nouvelle vague.

Cauchetier, who has died of Covid-19 at the age of 101, worked on the shoots of many key films of the early New Wave period, including Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962) and La peau douce (1964), Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962), Jacques Demy’s Lola (1961) and Jacques Rozier’s superb but overlooked Adieu Philippine (1962).

On set, Cauchetier would not simply catch the images closest to those in the film, but captured the off-screen action, the impromptu moments that exemplified the films’ spirit and the manner of their making. He later commented, “I was interested in the filmmaking process. I didn’t want to shoot what the movie cameras were filming.”

Jean Seberg on location filming À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960)
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT

Given that some of these works were debuts by directors still searching for their style, it’s remarkable how perfectly Cauchetier’s photos catch the essence of the works that would emerge: Seberg and Belmondo on the street or in a bedroom, the fantasy eroticism of the barroom sequences in Lola. The excitement of the era is also captured by Cauchetier’s shot of the famous bridge race in Jules and Jim, with Jeanne Moreau and her co-stars running at full tilt. That film also produced a photo that Cauchetier once identified as a personal favourite, Oskar Werner and Henri Serre launching into an impromptu goofy dance while shooting the boxing scene.

Godard himself is seen talking to – perhaps haranguing – Seberg and Belmondo, who sit wearily listening to him. Conversely, Françoise Dorléac is all smiles as Truffaut lights her cigarette on the shot of La peau douce. Another magnificent shot of Dorléac is one of Cauchetier’s most joyful: it shows her with her hair blown up in two long strands like antlers, one of them obscuring the face of a woman laughing with delight behind her.

Cauchetier was born in Paris in 1920; he was raised by his Jewish mother, but never knew his father: “I spent my youth in seriously straitened circumstances,” he recalled. He would join the French Resistance in 1943, and the Air Force in 1945, later working at the Air Ministry. He became a photographer in Saigon, when instructed to put together a photo album for air personnel; he started taking the pictures himself, buying a Rolleiflex, which became his regular tool.

His period in South-East Asia in the 50s resulted in a large output including images of Japan and Hong Kong and an extended study of Angkor Wat, and a 1955 photo album, Saigon. He also photographed Graham Greene in Saigon in 1954, then in Paris in 1958, where the writer talked about the Saigon album in a TV interview. Cauchetier’s later work included a long-term study of Romanesque churches and their sometimes ribald carvings (the only section on his website that includes the warning: ‘For Adults Only’).

Cauchetier’s fame among cinephiles came belatedly, and it was only through a change in copyright laws that he acquired the rights to his film pictures. His collection Photos de Cinéma was published in 2007, and the first major exhibition of his New Wave work was held at London’s James Hyman Gallery in 2010, followed by shows in Los Angeles, Melbourne, the Lumière Institute in Lyon and elsewhere.

The film images are only part of his work, but they guarantee Cauchetier’s immortality, revealing as they do so much about the nature of the New Wave film set, and the energies of young France at a cultural and social turning point.

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Riding the wave: Raymond Cauchetier photographs the nouvelle vague

Breathless

Jean-Luc Godard, France 1960

Jean Seberg on the set of Breathless (1960)
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT
Jean-Paul Belmondo during the filming of Breathless (1960)
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT
Seberg and Belmondo kiss on a street corner
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT

 Lola

Jacques Demy, France 1961

Anouk Aimée poses on the set of Lola (1961) whilst a light reading is taken
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT
Aimée poses on the set of Lola (1961)
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT

 A Woman is a Woman

Jean-Luc Godard, France 1961

Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo dance during the filming of A Woman is a Woman (1961)
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT
Belmondo has his face measured
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT

Antoine and Colette

François Truffaut, France 1962

Jean-Pierre Léaud on the set of Antoine and Colette (1962)
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT

Jules et Jim

François Truffaut, France 1962

Jeanne Moreau, Henri Serre and Oskar Werner during the filming of Jules et Jim (1962)
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT
The cast of Jules et Jim (1962) discuss their scripts
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT

Bay of Angels

Jacques Demy, France 1963

Jeanne Moreau dances with a boa as Claude Mann watches
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT
Moreau poses with a cigarette on the set of Bay of Angels (1963)
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT

The Soft Skin

François Truffaut, France 1964

Françoise Dorléac on the set of The Soft Skin (1964)
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT

Stolen Kisses

François Truffaut, France 1968

Delphine Seyrig watches as François Truffaut looks through the camera on the set of Stolen Kisses (1968)
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT
Delphine Seyrig poses on the set of Stolen Kisses (1968)
© RAYMOND CAUCHETIER/LA GALERIE DE L’INSTANT

Further reading

Light of day: Raoul Coutard on shooting film for Jean-Luc Godard

Light of day: Raoul Coutard on shooting film for Jean-Luc Godard

Anna Karina obituary: the French New Wave in the flesh

By Jonathan Romney

Anna Karina obituary: the French New Wave in the flesh

Jeanne Moreau obituary: a cultured, sensual actress for whom cinema was “life itself”

By Ginette Vincendeau

Jeanne Moreau obituary: a cultured, sensual actress for whom cinema was “life itself”

Jacques Rivette, 1928–2016

By Jonathan Romney

Jacques Rivette, 1928–2016

Alain Resnais, 1922-2014

Alain Resnais, 1922-2014

Claude Chabrol, 1930-2010

By Ginette Vincendeau

Claude Chabrol, 1930-2010

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