How One Photographer Captured the Golden Age of the French Riviera

As a roving reporter during the golden age of the French Riviera, Charles Bébert photographed celebrities ranging from The Beatles to Brigitte Bardot — but he didn’t publish his first book until the ripe age of 87.

That milestone came this year courtesy of creative consultant Sarah Andelman, who stumbled across the Instagram account created by Bébert’s son Stéphane.

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The former creative director of Paris concept store Colette was captivated by Bébert’s images from the ‘60s and ’70s, when the photographer enjoyed unrivaled access to film stars, musicians and athletes visiting the Côte d’Azur.

“At the time, we had a lot of fun with the stars. We socialized, we ate together. It’s different now,” says Bébert, who was close to stars like French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.

"Charles Bébert" by Just an Idea Books.
“Charles Bébert” by Just an Idea Books.

The tome published by Andelman’s imprint Just an Idea Books has already sold out its limited run of 500 copies. But Bébert gained a whole new audience after taking part in her book-themed exhibition at Paris department store Le Bon Marché.

His framed photos were shown next to a reproduction of the original window display of Chasseur d’images, the store he operated in Nice from 1964 until the early 2000s and that now serves as the headquarters of his archive.

Born in Oran, Algeria, Bébert started documenting sporting events at the age of 14. He arrived in Nice in 1963 after the war that led to Algeria gaining its independence from France, and quickly developed a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

A colorful character who enjoyed jamming with musicians on the side, “Charly” covered events ranging from the Cannes Film Festival to the Monaco Grand Prix for photo agencies including Sipa Press, guaranteeing global visibility for his subjects.

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg posing on the beach opposite the Negresco hotel in Nice in June 1972
Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg in June 1972.

For several years starting in 1966, his bulletins were also featured in a daily dedicated segment on Télé Monte-Carlo, a precursor to today’s celebrity news websites — minus the scandals. “I wasn’t interested in taking bad pictures. On the contrary, I was all about getting a great shot,” Bébert says.

He was popular with stars because he worked fast and was good at setting up photo ops.

Bébert captured Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin on the beach opposite the Negresco hotel in Nice; Paul McCartney exchanging a joke with a liveried doorman, and Audrey Hepburn on the set of “Two for the Road” at the nearby Studios de la Victorine.

When Gene Kelly came to Cannes in 1976 to present his documentary “That’s Entertainment, Part II,” Bébert orchestrated a cast portrait with Cary Grant, Johnny Weissmuller and Fred Astaire. Later that day, he immortalized Kelly arriving with a motorcycle police escort at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc.

“As he was going up the steps, he told me: ‘You’re a great director,’” the photographer recalls.

His son has spent the last few years sifting through 50 years of archives, and trying to retrieve the hundreds of negatives that Bébert sent to photo agencies, many of which were never returned. A second book is in the works, with new treasures bubbling up all the time.

“There’s enough to keep me busy for years,” Stéphane Bébert says.

Alain Delon shooting “Any Number Can Win” in Cannes in 1963
Alain Delon shooting “Any Number Can Win” in Cannes in 1963.

Launch Gallery: A Look at How Charles Bébert Captured the Golden Age of the French Riviera

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