Wind of freedom, hymn to improvisation, breath of spontaneity, at the Galerie Joseph which presents all summer, the first retrospective exhibition of the icons of the New Wave up to the Seventies.
Vandartists has gathered for this exhibition over 100 prints of French Cinema’s two greatest photographers, Raymond Cauchetier (born 1920) and Georges Pierre (1921-2003) who are witnesses of the creative spirit of directors such as Godard, Melville, Chabrol, Truffaut, Rivette, Sautet, Resnais. They became iconic personalities of Cinema’s history in their own right, along the many actors they helped to reach success, among the likes of Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Yves Montand, Anna Karina ou Romy Schneider. The photographs of Georges Pierre, the favorite photographer of Romy Schneider, who passed away in 2003, were never taken out of his archives and remained unseen for the most until today.
Philippe Garner is the author of the exhibition catalog foreword.
New Wave – new spirit (Nouvelle Vague – nouvel esprit)
One of the most emblematic images in French cinema is of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg strolling together down the Champs Elysées in Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Soufflé of 1960. Most of us who know this image would, I suspect, be surprised to learn that it is not in fact a frame from the film. It has an independent identity – as a photograph that successfully encapsulates the spirit of the film – and its author is not Godard but Raymond Cauchetier. This is just one instance of a little-appreciated reality regarding the still images that have consistently come to define the films they illustrate.
Photographs by Raymond Cauchetier and by his contemporary Georges Pierre, celebrated in this catalogue and in the exhibition it records, shed a fresh light on the vital rapport, in the story of filmmaking, between the cinematography itself and the still images that document the film’s production and serve its promotion. ‘Stills’ or ‘onset’ photographers, as they are generically described, have for too long been unsung heroes, their achievement subordinated to that of the director, who assumes the mantle of ‘auteur’ and its attendant glory. It is time to redress the balance as we at last open a Pandora’s Box – the lid of which has hitherto been firmly closed – to reveal the complex and fascinating intersection of the related but distinct disciplines of film and photography, and to acknowledge the talents of photographers such as Cauchetier, Pierre, and their peers, at a fertile moment in the story of both media, and within a broader story of the arts and culture of their day.
By the mid-1950s, cinema could boast its half-centenary as a medium of popular entertainment. From its tentative beginnings around 1905 – the year that saw the establishment of the first permanent film theatre, in Pittsburg, USA – it had become a huge international phenomenon, dominated by the power and reach of the great Hollywood studios. This authority was to be challenged mid-century by a generation of European film-makers, and perhaps most radically by a group of French directors, led most visibly and vocally by JeanLuc Godard and Francois Truffaut, whose work soon became known as the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ (‘New Wave’). Their rejection of the status quo and their significant innovations constitute a pivotal moment in film history. Central to the ambitions of the leading Nouvelle Vague directors was the determination to undermine the high artifice and narrative conventions that defined mainstream cinema. Their ideas first found expression in their critical writings in Les Cahiers du Cinéma, before they turned their thoughts into direct action at the end of the decade – making films that posited a now cinematic language. Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups of 1959 and Godard’s A Bout de Soufflé proposed a gritty realism – the antithesis of the fantasy and escapism that dominated the medium. They and others, including Claude Chabrol, Jacques Demy, Alain Resnais, and Jacques Rivette, sought a sense of realism and spontaneity, reflecting the texture and the often random aspects of everyday life. Nouvelle Vague directors favoured available light, real locations rather than studio sets, a more improvisational cinematography, and the freedom to break the rules of narrative and editing, experimenting with such possibilities as deliberate discontinuity. Godard famously stated that, ‘a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.’
This rethinking of the medium of film had its antecedent in Italian cinema, with the neorealismo movement, determined to tell everyday stories of ordinary lives, of which Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri di Biciclette (The BicycleTthieves of 1948) was a landmark. Nor should this cinematic revolution be seen as an isolated phenomenon. It should, rather, be situated, and is surely best understood, in the context of a post-war atmosphere of existential questioning that manifested itself across the arts – in literature and philosophy, in theatre, and tangibly in painting and sculpture. Existentialist authors favoured the provocation of open questions, rather than the limitations of precise answers; Samuel Beckett’s En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot), first staged in Paris in 1953, dispensed with the conventions of linear plot; Jean Dubuffet, meanwhile, coined the term ‘Art brut’ to describe his raw pictures that wilfully functioned outside the academic tradition; the label ‘Nouveaux Réalistes’ was given to a group of artists whose medium was the ‘found’ art of layered, torn, fragmented posters,including garish film posters, stripped from street sites and framed.
It was surely inevitable that this pervasive anarchic spirit should also impact approaches to photography, the static older sibling of the kinetic art of film. Henri Cartier-Bresson published his manifesto volume Images à la sauvette (literally ‘on the sly’ and applied to illicit street traders) in 1952. This underscored a view of photography that prioritised the authenticity of a fleeting moment captured, the slice of life that becomes a pictorial truth, with spontaneity and vitality prized over traditional formal and technical criteria. It is telling that Robert Frank’s equally ground-breaking volume of photographs of America was first published – as Les Américains – in a more receptive France,by Robert Delpire, in 1958. A new photography reflected a new spirit, able to take advantage of the flexibility made possible by smaller format cameras, faster lenses and film, but above all with the primary ambition to pursue realism and truth.
The leading directors of the Nouvelle Vague have become iconic figures in film history, as indeed have quite a number of the actors whose reputations they made. The time has come to acknowledge the unique role played by the on-set photographers. They were formed in the same social and cultural mould as the directors whoemployed them, shared the same aims and worked within similar strategies to make dynamic, indeed iconic photographs for which they deserve full and overdue recognition.
ICÔNES – From the New Wave to the Seventies
July 5 / September 16 2018
16 rue des Minimes 75003 PARIS