Raymond Cauchetier, a self-taught photographer who helped promote and even define the French New Wave, taking pictures on the set of “Breathless,” “Jules and Jim” and other landmarks of 1960s cinema that captured the movement’s rebellious spirit, died Feb. 22 at a hospital in Paris. He was 101.

The cause was covid-19, said Julia Gragnon, a Parisian gallerist who oversaw a retrospective of his work last year at La Galerie de l’Instant.

Mr. Cauchetier started his photography career in the early 1950s, taking pictures for the news service of the French air force in Saigon. Wielding a Rolleiflex camera — partly because it dried easily whenever he accidentally dropped it in the Mekong River — he traveled across Southeast Asia photographing rice farmers, rickshaw drivers, the temples of Angkor Wat and the First Indochina War.

He later photographed a convoy of Cold War-era rockets in Moscow, talking security officials into letting him return home with the film rolls; crisscrossed Cambodia taking pictures for a tourism project at the behest of former king Norodom Sihanouk; and spent two decades photographing Romanesque art across Europe, trying to document 12th-century church sculptures before they were damaged by pollution or dismantled by thieves.

But he remained indelibly linked to the French New Wave, the cinematic movement that upended world cinema with its unconventional editing, bold visual style, use of portable equipment and deeply personal subject matter. Launched by movies such as François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” and Alain Resnais’s “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (both 1959), the New Wave became increasingly prominent with Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” (1960), which starred Jean-Paul Belmondo as a gruff car thief and Jean Seberg as his short-haired American love interest.

Mr. Cauchetier was hired as the film’s set photographer, a position that typically involved taking posed pictures of actors at the beginning or end of each scene to help with makeup, continuity and publicity.

Taking a photojournalist’s approach to the job, he instead shot Belmondo and Seberg in action, making carefully framed, richly textured photographs that captured moments of play and spontaneity. His pictures also showed Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard at work, offering future film historians a rich trove of behind-the-scenes images.

“In assembling his movie-centered still-photo dossiers, he created perhaps the greatest and most revealing photographic documents ever made of films in progress,” film author Richard Brody wrote in a 2015 New Yorker article. “Cauchetier is the auteur of set photographers.”

Mr. Cauchetier photographed Godard pushing Coutard in a wheelchair, enabling the cinematographer to shoot a low-budget tracking shot; another photo showed the director with a canvas-covered trolley cart equipped with a hole for the camera, which Godard used to shoot on the busy Champs-Élysées.

In one of his best-known images, he photographed Seberg kissing Belmondo on the cheek, while the actor gripped a cigarette and gazed into the distance. Although it was inspired by a sequence in “Breathless,” the image never appeared in the film.

“That day, to avoid the crowds, Godard shot from up high on the fifth-floor of a building,” Mr. Cauchetier told the Guardian in 2015. “You could just make out this minuscule couple parting with a chaste kiss in front of a newspaper stand. I went down afterwards and said I wanted to do a close-up of a kiss because it summed up their characters so well. They obliged. It lasted five seconds.”

Mr. Cauchetier took so many photos that he was fired by the producer of “Breathless.” But he reunited with Godard on the 1961 comedy-drama “A Woman Is a Woman,” capturing intimate moments between the director and star Anna Karina — clutching her wrist while seated at a Paris cafe; sharing a kiss while Godard doffed his fedora — in the months before the couple married.

For Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim” (1962), the story of a tragic love triangle, he photographed the director jokingly offering a cigarette to an extra playing a choirboy, and captured an exuberant moment from a scene in which Jeanne Moreau races across a footbridge in the Paris suburbs, chased by Henri Serre and Oskar Werner. Mr. Cauchetier had only enough time to take one photo per take, he later recalled: “Luckily, one of them worked.”

Raymond Cauchetier was born on Jan. 10, 1920, in a small, fifth-floor Paris apartment that he kept throughout his life. He was raised alone by his mother, a nurse and piano teacher, and spent hours staring out a window at the nearby Bois de Vincennes. When he was 11, the Paris Colonial Exposition opened in the park, complete with a replica of Angkor Wat.

“Out of that window, I saw Angkor Wat, which made me want to go to Indochina, and Indochina made me want to start taking photographs,” he told the Guardian. “And so without me really knowing it, that window changed my life.”

Mr. Cauchetier grew up in poverty; even after winning a crossword competition at age 18, his mother refused to allow him to collect the prize, a Leica camera, because they couldn’t afford the cost of developing film. He fled Paris on a bicycle during the Nazi occupation, served in the French resistance and joined the air force in 1945.

Six years later, he was sent to Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, where a general tasked him with finding a photographer who could put together a personnel album for the troops. “Nobody came forward,” Mr. Cauchetier recalled, but the general was insistent. “ ‘Find a solution, Cauchetier,’ he said. ‘Try and take the photos yourself. It can’t be that hard.’ And I thought — why not?”

Mr. Cauchetier traveled across Southeast Asia after being discharged, at one point adopting a tiger cub named Bijou. In 1956, he was hired to work as the set photographer for Marcel Camus’s film “Fugitive in Saigon,” which was filming in Indochina. “It wasn’t because I was (possibly) talented,” Mr. Cauchetier wrote in an online biography, “but because it was cheaper than bringing over a photographer from Paris.”

He later returned to Paris, intent on working as a photojournalist. Instead, the only job he could find was shooting “photonovels,” short stories — similar to comic strips — that used photographs instead of cartoons. Through that job, he met producer Georges de Beauregard, who hired him for “Breathless.”

Mr. Cauchetier’s other New Wave films included Truffaut’s “The Soft Skin” (1964) and “Stolen Kisses” (1968); Jacques Demy’s “Lola” (1961) and “Bay of Angels” (1963); Jacques Rozier’s “Adieu Philippine” (1962); Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Léon Morin, Priest” (1961); and Agnès Varda’s “Cléo from 5 to 7” (1962), in which he had a small role as a movie-theater projectionist.

In 1968, he decided to move on from set photography, tired of the paltry wages. Although some of his New Wave images were widely reproduced, many of them remained out of sight for decades, held by producers and studio executives until a 1992 change in French copyright law enabled him to gain control of the photos.

With help from his wife and sole immediate survivor, Kaoru, Mr. Cauchetier organized his archives, leading to a London solo show at James Hyman Gallery in 2010 and a 2015 book, “Raymond Cauchetier’s New Wave,” that helped make his name more widely known.

In an interview with Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that year, Mr. Cauchetier lamented that “my photos languished in dusty cardboard boxes for forty years.” Recognition had been too long in coming, he added, “but photography introduced me to an extraordinary world: I am a witness to cinema.”

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