Blind Magazine : photography at first sight
Close this search box.

Philippe R. Doumic: The Photographic Treasures of French Cinema

Philippe Doumic took many portraits of the world of cinema for Unifrance in the 1960s, some of which have become iconic. His daughter pays tribute to him in a beautiful book, in an effort to ensure the continued recognition of a photographer who had long remained in the shadows.

This archival record of the work of Philippe René Doumic (1927–2013) reveals images that are at once personal, touching, and even astonishing. Born in Paris, the photographer worked for thirteen years, between 1957 and 1970, for Unifrance, taking more than 20,000 photographs to promote French cinema around the world. There is nothing conventional about his images, which filter out the secret intimacy between the photographer and the sitter. The poses are sometimes even anachronistic, like Jean-Luc Godard examining a roll of film—a portrait that became world-famous. The photographer himself, however, went uncredited for decades. His daughter, the documentary filmmaker Laurence Doumic-Roux, wants to restore him to his rightful place and, in collaboration with Capricci Éditions, publishes his very first photography book.

A palette of emotions

The beauty of Jean Marais moves us. Anouk Aimée possesses timeless grace. The seriousness of Jean-Claude Brialy is to be deciphered. Françoise Dorléac exudes magnificent gentleness. Brigitte Bardot is at ease in her go-kart. And Jean-Pierre Melville, without hat or glasses, drops his mask and displays his fondness for his cat—a facet of the filmmaker little known to his fans. 

Belmondo. © Philippe R Doumic
Belmondo. © Philippe R. Doumic
Françoise Dorléac. © Philippe R Doumic
Françoise Dorléac. © Philippe R. Doumic

Philippe R. Doumic: L’Œil du cinéma invites us to discover nearly 200 portraits of rare strength. “My father was a photographer of the gaze and gestures,” recalls his daughter, herself a filmmaker. “He did not photograph them as stars. He went against the grain of the studio- and light-based Harcourt style of portraiture, capturing images at the other end of the spectrum, with men near windows, women against trees, artists accompanied by their animals. Everything seems natural, but everything is belabored, thought out, strategic.” 

The book offers a broad look at his “freedom of invention.” His portfolio goes beyond the ritual of Unifrance promotional photography, which was in operation since 1949. Today, many of the rising stars he photographed had become giants and some of Doumic’s photos have traveled the world. But the photographer’s name has remained in the shadows.

Anna Karina. © Philippe R Doumic
Anna Karina. © Philippe R. Doumic
Jean-Pierre Melville. © Philippe R Doumic
Jean-Pierre Melville. © Philippe R. Doumic

Taking a “true photograph”

In her introduction to the book, Laurence Doumic-Roux paints a first-hand portrait of her father, depicting his family, personal, and professional life, with an emphasis on his friendships with Françoise Dorléac and Jean-Claude Brialy, his thematic series, and his singular encounters with Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, and Maurice Ronet. “My father was a discreet, selfless, and humble person who easily garnered sympathy and trust. He knew how to establish a strong connection with the artists who allowed him to take these photos. What he liked was taking a ‘true photograph,’ one that did not conform to the popular image of the artist. His portraits remain profound and accurate; they are extraordinary, in the strong sense of the word. He made his own black-and-white prints in his laboratory to stay in control. For him, his profession was neither an art nor a job, but a passion.”

Philippe Doumic left the film industry in 1970 and became a reporter-photographer for various publications and art galleries. Then, the fatal blow: his wife, Arlette Doumic, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He decided to retire in the late 1990s to take care of her at their home in Souvigny, in Sologne, leaving the world of professional photography for good by the 2000s.

Philippe and Arlette Doumic.
Philippe and Arlette Doumic.

The uncredited photograph

After the death of her father in 2013, Laurence Doumic-Roux decided to sort out his laboratory, which he called his “secret chamber,” and found boxes of photos and negatives that had lain dormant for sixty years. She brought back to life these precious archives in her documentary Philippe R. Doumic: Sous son regard l’étincelle (2019) (streaming in France on OCS). It is a record of a fascinating investigation carried out jointly with Sebastien Cauchon, collector and member of Unifrance, to understand why this photographer received so little recognition among his peers. Above all, the film sets out to discover how it is possible that the famous photograph of Jean-Luc Godard has been exploited without a single word of acknowledgment: by magazines, such as the Cahiers du Cinéma, on social media, and in all sorts of derivative products. 

The story of this photograph remains perhaps the most edifying in the narrative. It’s an “injustice,” an “offense,” an “omission,” which made it possible for “counterfeits to be sold sometimes at high prices,” noted Doumic-Roux. She intends to make reparations, retracing the vicissitudes of the profession of film-set photographer in the 1960s, relegated to the rank of a “servant,” citing the fight of Raymond Cauchetier, who fought for the recognition of his copyrights.

Jean-Luc Godard. © Philippe R Doumic
Jean-Luc Godard. © Philippe R. Doumic

“My father’s name was originally mentioned on all the Unifrance files,” she says, “but as these passed from hand to hand, little by little, his name was removed. Some image banks have not failed to overexploit the fact and have been selling the image as uncredited. This orphaned photo went down in history. Doumic-Roux adds snarkily: “Even back in those days, we wouldn’t look at the film in this way. Godard did that upon my father’s request. It was a symbolic way of identifying Godard.”

Achieving recognition

After the death of Jean-Luc Godard, on September 13, 2022, the photograph was reissued, this time credited to the author. “My efforts throughout all these years had not been in vain,” affirms Doumic-Roux. “This has haunted me more than it did my father. I think, at the time, he was not aware of the significance of the photo.”

Jean Marais. © Philippe R Doumic
Jean Marais. © Philippe R. Doumic

The beautiful book, published by Capricci, is a wonderful complement to the film, and highlights Philippe R. Doumic’s work, alongside film screenings and projects of exhibitions in France, and even in Hollywood. “For me, it would be unthinkable to let his work languish in the shadows. And I have more ambition. I would like it to shine as much as this picture by Godard, of extraordinary visual strength.” 

Self-portrait. © Philippe R Doumic
Self-portrait. © Philippe R. Doumic

Laurence Doumic-Roux, Philippe R. Doumic: L’Œil du cinema, Capricci Éditions, 2022, £35, 240 pp.

Alain Delon, cover. © Phillipe R. Doumic
Alain Delon, cover. © Phillipe R. Doumic

You’re getting blind.
Don’t miss the best of visual arts. Subscribe for $9 per month or $108 $90 per year.

Already subscribed? Log in