The same sun

Raoul Coutard, Indochina 1945-1954

16 10 2010 ... 16 01 2011


Before becoming the greatest lighting cameraman of the Nouvelle Vague, Raoul Coutard was a photographer in the French army.
During the war in Indochina, Raoul Coutard learnt how to work under pressure and follow his instinct well beyond his comfort zone. He joined up in 1945 at twenty one with the French Far East Corps expéditionnaire , attracted by the « unexplored white zones » on the map, he was quickly transferred into the geographical department where he remained until 1948. He was moved and overcome by this region of the world and returned between 1950 and 1954. He began as a military photographer-reporter for the cinema department of the French army and went on to become the Head of photography at the magazine Indochine Sud-Est Asiatique .

In Indochina, Raoul Coutard was not yet a cinematographer. He was more interested in getting his work into the National Geographic . In addition to the reportage work he was commissioned to do for the army, he also accompanied ethnologists on their expeditions organised by the École française d’Extrême-Orient. Equipped with a Rolleiflex, two Leicas and a super 8 cine-camera, he shot his work in colour, which was unusual for the time. Along with the ethnologists Charles Archaimbault, Henri Deydier and Jean Boulbet, he depicted the primitive ethnic diversity of Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, all countries that were still relatively unknown in the West. He was fascinated by the beauty of bodies and faces, landscapes and light and brought a sensual eye to the minorities and their traditions.

Between a Conradian exploration and scenes reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now , Raoul Coutard’s original images compose an exceptional, rarely shown narrative. His photographic description, transformed by colour and carried by the validity of an ethnological approach – that today is a valuable aid to understanding the era -, nevertheless shows a level of personal expression that was later evident in his work for the cinema.

The musée Nicéphore Niépce enthusiastically embraced the work of this rare, personal, subtle and human photographer. The exhibition places these images back in to their context and reflects on their status some sixty years after they were taken.
Raoul Coutard photographed these « minorities » and passed on to us the last traces of human groups still untouched by the virus of modernity. There is nothing terrible, nothing horrific in the sacrifice of the buffalo, it is but an homage to power and strength. There is nothing offensive about the nubile nudes that project images of a natural state preserved forever. Images before the catastrophe.
Raoul Coutard bears witness to all of this, ethnic groups far from the noise of war, peoples of a natural beauty who reflect our imperfections, our failures and our bad choices as westerners.

In tandem with this exhibition, the musée Nicéphore Niépce and the Éditions Le Bec are publishing :
Raoul Coutard
Le même Soleil, Indochine [1945-1954]
176 pages
Introduction by François Cheval
ISBN : 978-2-916073-60-6
31,90  €