Raymond Cauchetier (10 Jan. 1920, Paris - 22 Feb. 2021, Paris) was a self-taught photographer whose work, intimately vinculated to Angkor and Asia, is recognized as one of the major testimonies on culture and arts in the 20th century.
The son of a struggling widow, Raymond had a humble childhood, illuminated at the age of 11 with the vision of the Angkor Wat reconstitution for the 1931 World Exhibition in Vincennes, which he could marvel at from the window of their small apartment. After joining the France Libre Resistance in 1943, he was sent in Saigon as part of the Free French Air Force press service. He bought himself a quite basic Rolleiflex camera, "used by all war correspondents in those times", and started doing aerial photos.
In 1959, Brazilian musician Antonio In 1959, Carlos Jobim and lyricist Newton Mendonça released ´Desafinado´(Out of Tune), a song-manifesto of Bossa Nova:¨Fotografei vôce na minha Roleiflex / Revelou-se sua enorme ingratidao¨, Taking a photo of you with my Rolleiflex/ Exposed its gigantic ungratefulness...
¨I see myself more as a historian than a photographer¨, would later recall Cauchetier, who nevertheless became a belatedly acclaimed visual artist, photographying Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Japan in the 1950s, before switching to movie set photography.
In 1967, King Sihanouk was so taken by Cauchetier's photos that he offered him to launch and head a National School of Photography, but Raymond was too much of a wanderer and free spirit to take upon himself such a responsibility. According to Cauchetier himself, "the King of Cambodia had a special air-conditioned safe made to protect my slides and negatives from the tropical climate. Little did he know that a coup was in the offing, and that in 1970 one of his generals, Lon Nol, inspired by the CIA, would depose him while he was on one of his trips to France. The victory was short-lived. The Khmers Rouges, which Sihanouk had kept in check, were unleashed on Cambodia and embarked on a reign of terror. They took Phnom Penh in 1975 and occupied the Royal Palace. They found the safe with the photos in it and, believing it to be full of jewels, blew it up with dynamite. Everything it contained was burnt to ashes: nothing remained of my 3,000 photos."
Raymond Cauchetier passed away at 101 years of age, after contracting Covid-19 virus in France. Read his ´self-portrait´.
The 'four rivers' site of Phnom Penh, aerial view by Raymond Cauchetier in 1957. Earlier that same year, Cauchetier had gone to the Siem Reap jungle to photograph the warlord Chap Duon. During that trip, he rescued a baby tiger that he named Bijou and brought back to Phnom Penh, then to France:
(all photos © Raymond Cauchetier)