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On Photography: George Rodger, 1908-1995


“I had no contact with my contemporaries in the photographic field, nor even knowledge of their work. So I was influenced by no one and there were no shortcuts for me. I was self-taught the hard way, by trial and error.” -George Rodger

Travel was always part of George Rodger’s life. He had sailed around the world twice with the British Merchant Navy by age 20. Rodger spent the Depression years in the United States working as a machinist, wool buyer and steel rigger.

George Rodger moved back to the U.K. to work as a still photographer for the BBC. By 1939 as Germany invaded Poland and the rest of Europe, he became a freelance photographer for the Black Star Agency.

World War II

George Rodger’s photographs of the London Blitz show England’s bleak devastation from the Luftwaffe bombings. Helmets were worn by any who could get one including children (opening photo, top row, first image.) Rescue workers searched the damage for survivors (opening photo, top row, second image.) George documented it. This work brought him to become a war correspondent for LIFE magazine.

George Rodger traveled over 75,000 miles across Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East, India, and the Japanese invasion of Burma.

Rodger was in the North African and Italian campaigns. He covered Free French fighters in West Africa and traveled from North Africa to Sicily and Salerno, Italy where he shot the Allied landing (opening photo, top row, third image) and met photojournalist Robert Capa. George Rodger was at Normandy during D-Day.

LIFE magazine ran an eight-page story in an August 1942 issue covering much of his amazing journey and illustrated with his photographs.

Liberation

On Photography: George Rodger, 1908-1995
George Rodger photographing the liberation of Paris. Photo: ©Henri Cartier-Bresson

He was the first photographer to enter the Bergan-Belsen concentration camp, in April 1945. The experience changed his view of documentary photography.

“It wasn’t even a matter of what I was photographing, as what had happened to me in the process,” he said. “When I discovered that I could look at the horror of Belsen –4000 dead and starving lying around– and think only of a nice photographic composition, I knew something had happened to me and I had to stop. I felt I was like the people running the camp –it didn’t mean a thing.”

George Rodger photographed the liberation of France, Belgium, Denmark and The Netherlands. He covered the German surrender at Luneberg (opening photo, top row, last image.)

Magnum

George Rodger with Henri Cartier-Bresson, David (Chim) Seymour and Robert Capa formed the picture agency Magnum Photos in 1947.

With his disillusionment with war and conflict photography, George Rodger’s work leaned toward the vanishing life of tribes and animals in Africa. He documented the ethnic peoples in hard to get to places.

Kordofan

George Rodger filmed the Nuba tribe in Southern Sudan in 1949. The footage shows rarely seen images of Nuba bracelet fighting and Latuka Rainmakers. Rodger made the 16mm film with its original soundtrack while working in Kordofan, Southern Sudan (opening photo bottom row, third and fourth images.)

Sahara Desert

On Photography: George Rodger, 1908-1995
George Rodger with Mzuri the Land Rover in 1957.

George Rodger with his wife, Jinx took a Land Rover 107 Series 1 on an expedition across the Sahara Desert for National Geographic magazine. By 1958 the pair spent six months traveling through East Africa. George photographed wildlife and life of the native tribes, too. These assignments were for LIFE, Holiday, Paris Match, National Geographic, London Illustrated and Der Stern.

During these trips, George Rodger and Jinx documented themselves using their Land Rover named “Mzuri” Swahili for “very good.” It was the common element (opening photo, bottom row, first image.) Here is a selection of the Land Rover series. At the end of the photos are pages from Land Rover Magazine that tells the rest of the story of Mzuri after it had been sold.

30 years later, Land Rover specialists, David and Janelle D’Arcy found the rusting vehicle in the outback of Australia.

Sources: Magnum, AZ Quotes, George Rodger, International Center of Photography, Land Rover Heaven.



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Rafael Jones

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