As a solitary child, Raymond Depardon took his first photographs on the family farm. At the age of 16, he moved to Paris, where he became the assistant of photographer Gilles Foucherand. Foucherand soon became associated with the Delmas agency, which sent Depardon to Africa to follow the SOS-Sahara expedition in 1960. The young man returned with a report that was very well received when it was published in Paris-Match, then went on to cover the wars in Algeria and Vietnam. In 1966, he co-founded the mythical Gamma agency, for which he went on assignment to Chad, Biafra and Prague.
Heir to the direct cinema movement, whose leaders include Richard Leacock and Pennebaker, Depardon followed Giscard during his 1974 campaign. Author of several short films that saw him travel the world, the filmmaker directed his second feature in 1980, Numéros zéro, a gripping dive into the editorial staff of Le Matin de Paris. Patience, discretion, attention at all times: these are the golden rules of the filmmaker, who witnesses the daily life of press photographers (Reporters, César for best documentary in 1982) or a team of police officers (Faits divers), and immerses himself in institutions as closed as the hospital world (the San Clemente psychiatric asylum, the emergency room of the Hôtel-Dieu) or the justice system -Délits flagrants (1994), which earned him a second César.
In 1985, Empty Quarter, A Woman in Africa was Raymond Depardon's first foray into fiction. The black continent, on which he looks both lovingly and worriedly (Afriques: comment ca va avec la douleur? in 1996) will inspire the documentary filmmaker two other fiction films: La Captive du desert (1989), shot in Niger with Sandrine Bonnaire in the role of Françoise Claustre, an archaeologist kidnapped by the Toubous, then Un homme sans l'Occident (2002).
In 2012, his film Journal de France, directed with Claudine Nougaret, was presented out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2012, the President of the French Republic, François Hollande, chose Raymond Depardon to make his official portrait. Raymond Depardon made the portrait on May 29, 2012 in the garden of the Elysee Palace.