Bernard Cahier: Motor racing photojournalist
Thursday 28 August 2008
Bernard Cahier occupied a rare position in the world of international motor racing, for he was the sport's first true photojournalist.
He became hooked early in life. He was only five when his father, a soldier who would eventually become a general, took him to the Marseilles Grand Prix at Miramas in 1932. Aged 12 at the outbreak of the Second World War, Cahier Jnr was 17 when he joined the resistance in Brittany and was active long before the Normandy landings.
Following the liberation of Brittany in the summer of 1944 he joined General Philippe Leclerc's 2nd Armoured Division and worked as an engineer. He was involved in the clearing of land-mines in the Royan Pocket in western France and the liberation of southern Germany in the spring of 1945. He was then sent off to the French colony of Cameroon for a year before heading to the United States to study at UCLA (the University of California, Los Angeles). It was there that he met Joan Updike, whom he would later marry, and was finally able to indulge his passion for motorsport.
He took a job at International Motors, Los Angeles' largest foreign car dealership, run by an enthusiast, Roger Barlow. It was while selling European sports cars to wealthy Americans that the urbane Cahier was able to blend into the thriving postwar sports car scene in southern California, and made the acquaintance of a fellow salesman, Phil Hill, and the mechanic Richie Ginther. Both would later achieve international fame as Formula One drivers, Hill becoming America's first world champion, in 1961.
Barlow raced, and Cahier cut his teeth competing in an MG before he became involved in reporting on the sport. He and Joan moved to Paris in 1952, and he journeyed to Monza on behalf of an American publication to photograph the Italian Grand Prix. Then he was commissioned to report F1 for the influential magazine L'Action Automobile. Naturally outgoing and gregarious, Cahier was soon accepted into the inner circle and became a close friend of those at the very heart of the sport.
In 1954 he captured the Argentinian racer Roberto Mieres' flaming Maserati A6GCM/250F at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. "The car was going to hell, and I wasn't going to wait for it to stop. It was getting too damn hot!" Mieres said, explaining why he baled out. "Bernard was there. He had missed the start and was taking pictures of the second group of cars when I came into sight, on fire. He caught all the action and then sold the pictures to The New York Times. Later on he told me, 'I bought a house on the strength of them.' 'On a mortgage, of course,' I suggested. But he just laughed and said, 'No! I bought it outright. Just because of those pictures!'"
Cahier became something of a celebrity himself, partly because readers liked his breezy writing style and candid photographs, and partly because of his penchant for appearing in front of the lens with his friends, such as the great Argentinian champion Juan Manuel Fangio and the celebrities of the day. He was also instrumental in furthering the careers of Hill and Ginther, and another Californian, the great Dan Gurney, by helping to find them drives in Europe.
He also acted as Goodyear's public relations consultant in F1 and was celebrated not only for his connections inside the business but also for his charm and hospitality. He knew everyone and brokered many deals. He still occasionally raced himself, notably in 1956 in the infamous Mille Miglia road race across Italy and the 1967 Targa Florio sports car race in Sicily. In the former, he and his co-driver Nadege Ferrier finished five hours behind Eugenio Castellotti's winning Ferrari in their modest Renault Dauphine saloon. In the latter he and the French skiing champion Jean-Claude Killy won the GT class and finished seventh overall in their factory-entered Porsche 911S.
He was responsible for introducing the motorhome to the sport, in the form of a caravan that was put at the media's disposal.
When the Hollywood moviemaker John Frankenheimer shot his film Grand Prix during the 1966 season, it was Cahier who acted as his Man Friday to smooth its path, and he made a cameo appearance in it together with the likes of a hammy Graham Hill and Phil Hill.
Two years later, irritated by the way in which the media were treated by the disparate grand prix organisers in those pre-Ecclestone days, Cahier was one of the founders of the International Racing Press Association (IRPA), later becoming its president. Inevitably that led him into conflict with Bernie Ecclestone himself and the FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre. Refused a pass for his home grand prix one year, he pulled his political connections to foil his enemies. His sister was married to Robert Mitterand, brother of the President, François Mitterand, and the problem was solved.
He continued to play a role in F1 until 1983, when a change in management at Goodyear resulted in the termination of his contract. He and Joan continued to socialise on the grand prix scene, and his role as a photographer was taken over by his son Paul-Henri, who remains a familiar figure today. Their joint archive represents one of the most vibrant chronicles of the sport, embracing not just the cars but also the personalities and events over six decades.
Bernard Cahier, photojournalist: born Marseilles, France 20 June 1927; married 1951 Joan Updike (one son, one daughter); died Evian, France 10 July 2008.
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