Saturday, 28 February 2009

Profile: George Rodger

The liberation of Brussels 1944 - Image by George Rodger

Last year, the blog's photographer profile series looked at Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, two of photography's most iconic figures. Their role in setting up the Magnum photo agency has become a integral part of photographic history, but two other photographers were involved in establishing Magnum alongside Capa and Cartier Bresson. They were David 'Chim' Seymour and George Rodger. We start with George Rodger, a British photographer whose experiences during World war II read like a boys adventure handbook and had a profound effect on his post war work.

George Rodger was born in Hale, Cheshire in 1908 and was the son of a Presbyterian father involved in the shipping and the Lancashire cotton trades. He was educated at St Bedes college in Cumbria in Northern England and distinguished himself as a brilliant shot and a keen horseman. At the age of 18 he entered the merchant navy, becoming an apprentice deck officer on a tramp steamer. By the time he was 19 he had circled the globe twice. George Rodger had wanted to become a writer and in 1928 he managed to sell a story about the gardens of Assam to the Baltimore Sun. The drawn illustration that was supplied by the newspaper for the article appalled Rodger. He later said ' I was pictured encircled by snakes, cutting my way through the jungle. Perfectly absurd!!' It was then that Rodger decided that he would illustrate his stories himself by taking the images himself for use with his writing. During the depression years, George Rodger made his way around America working as a machinist, wool sorter, steel rigger and farmhand. He continued to take photographs and often developed the film in the bath. His big break into professional photography came when he returned to the UK and got a job with the BBC, photographing guest speakers for the BBC's The Listener radio programme. Rodger also photographed the BBC's early television broadcasts but disliked the noisy shutter of the Speed Graphic camera that he was using. He changed to the lighter, smaller and quieter Leica 35mm camera.

The BBC closed down its photography department at the outbreak of war in September 1939 and Rodger found himself out of work. Initially he thought about joining the Royal Air Force as a rear turret gunner on a bomber, but he found out that photographers were in the 'reserved occupations' category so he joined the Black Star photo agency. The agency had been established to supply the vast number of illustrated magazines that had become hugely popular during the 1930's. George Rodger spent considerable time waiting on Shakespeare cliff near Dover to photograph the German invasion fleet, that never actually came, coming across the English channel. The other aspect of the war was the bombing of British towns and cities and it's Rodger's photography of war torn London and Coventry during the Blitz that remain some of his most enduring images. The photographs capture the human spirit's ability to endure all sorts of trauma and change from clothing restrictions to sleeping on a tube station platform. The city of London was photographed extensively and the images capture the immense damage done to the streets and transport system. One of my favourite Rodger images of this period shows a temporary bridge spanning a massive bomb crater in Charing Cross Road. Other photographs show windowless shops complete with humorous signs stating that the Oxford Street shop was ' more open than usual'. One female shopper even stops and is photographed checking the material quality of a coat in a shop window - thanks to the lack of glass in the shop window. Air raid wardens, newspaper vendors and the local parish priests all come into focus as part of the blitz coverage by Rodger. A book of these photographs called The Blitz – The photography of George Rodger contains many great images from this period in Rodger's career.

By the end of 1940, Rodger was in North Africa photographing the Free French force harassing the Italians in Chad and Libya. The project should have kept him away just a few weeks but Rodger would not return to Britain for two years. After a busy period of photographing the conflict taking place in North Africa and the Middle East, Rodger made his way to Rangoon where he arrived during the middle of a Japanese attack. He stayed and photographed several stories for LIFE magazine including, amongst others, the Flying Tigers squadron made up of American volunteers. The Japanese advance could not be stopped and soon Rangoon was to fall. Fortunately Rodger managed to make his way out and link up with the Indian army at Scwegyin in Burma. From there he went to take images of the Burma road, the only supply route to and from China. However the Japanese advance cut Burma in two and Rodger and the other correspondents had to find a way out. Eventually after many adventures including a navigating a dangerous river, Rodger managed to make it to the Indian border and onto a train to Calcutta. The photographs Rodger had produced during this time had, unbeknown to him, been extensively published in LIFE magazine making George Rodger a famous name in the USA,- something that Rodger found difficult to deal with especially as he was suffering from shell shock. He was called to New York and lecture tours around the USA were arranged by LIFE magazine. For the rest of the war, Rodger travelled to the various battlefronts. During this time, George Rodger was the only British freelance photographer to work on the front line. Most of Rodger's fellow photographers had been drafted into the army to work as army correspondents. The training was tedious and the army's photographic equipment was rather old fashioned. Bert Hardy, a photographer who had worked for the Picture Post for many years, was forced to go through the British army photography training programme even though he was far more experienced than the instructor. Hardy ditched his bulky army speed graphic camera and used his own Leica until it broke. The army refused to have it fixed.

After periods at the front in Italy where he met Robert Capa for the first time, Rodger continued to photograph the war through France and Germany. It was in 1945 that a turning point came in Rodger's career starting with the photographer accompanying British troops into the concentration camp at Belsen. The sheer scale of death horrified Rodger but the photographs he produced there also troubled him. ' The dead were lying around, over 4000 of them' recalled Rodger many years later 'and I found that I was getting bodies into photographic compositions. And I said my God what has happened to me?' As the final days of World War II came to an end, George Rodger decided that he could no longer work as a war photographer. After the war he helped set up the Magnum photo agency with his friends Capa, Seymour and Cartier-Bresson. Like these other great photographers, Rodger had been increasingly frustrated with the lack of control he had over his images. With Magnum established George Rodger returned to Africa to photograph a continent that he'd fallen in love with. His image of Nuba tribemen in southern Sudan carrying a victorious Nuba wrestler remains one of his most famous and iconic images of Africa. In 1959 he settled down in Smarden, Kent and continued to travel and photograph on assignment. George Rodger died in 1995 after a lifetime of photographic achievement. He was extremely well travelled, probably the best travelled of the four Magnum photographers. Ironically he is often left out of the founding names of Magnum. George Rodger's images reflect his love of humanity, travel and the ethnic and cultural diversity that he came across during his lifetime. His work remains highly influential to this day.

All Images are by George Rodger
  • Top left - George Rodger
  • Top right - Robert Capa and George Rodger, Sicily 1943
  • Middle right - London Blitz, 1940
  • Middle left - The Blitz; The Photography of George Rodger
  • Bottom right - Western Desert, 1941
  • Bottom left - Flemish former SS guard in prison at Breendonk prison, 1944
  • Bottom - Belsen concentration camp, 1945

Weblinks

Two today




The Richard Flint Photography Blog is two years old today! Wow... how time flies. It only seems like five minutes since i started the blog. A big slice of birthday cake all round but especially big slices to those of you who have left comments or visit regularly. Thank you so much.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Moving pictures

Sea front at Sheringham, Norfolk, UK - July 2008

Things haven't gone to plan this week. I should have been up north in Newcastle Upon Tyne but sadly due to equipment problems, the trip has been postponed for a while. Maybe the weather and light will be better when i go in a few weeks time. I can work on ideas in the meantime.

The podcast project is coming together nicely and has developed from audio only to include video podcasts too. The video podcasts will be short 3 to 4 minutes films covering a wide variety of photo topics including the SoFoBoMo book project that i'll be doing in May. I've been practising my video editing skills and rather enjoyed putting together a little test film i'd shot.

The blog's video podcasts will be released every four weeks starting in mid April. More details on this will be posted soon.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The right to copyright

Hunstanton seafront, Norfolk, UK - July 2008

Facebook's terms of service came sharply into view this week after the social network website quietly altered the terms regarding data use. The changes made Facebook the controller of any work posted on their site - even if it was deleted by the owner. Facebook could use it in any shape, way or form and you wouldn't receive a penny. The resulting angry response of users prompted Facebook to change the terms back but i think this matter will rumble on for some time to come. Many people decided to vote with their feet and left Facebook because of this issue. I'm one of them.

Facebook is not a great place for artists. That's my final opinion after having a page for over a year. It's not that i hate Facebook. I just don't like the idea of any website subtly changing its rules at the risk of robbing me of potential income. Why should they have it? Copyright infringement is theft in the same way that someone walking into your house and taking your TV is theft too. It's just much more subtle. Check the website terms before uploading any material and even then, make sure that the work isn't high grade. Using the 'Save for web' function in Photoshop is just one way of controlling the quality of photographs you want the world to see.

So how do you avoid people 'borrowing' your online work? Well you can follow a number of steps to discourage potential thieves. If you have a blog i would limit the image size of photographs posted. The 35mm and digital images on my website are 551 x 365 pixels in size which, combined with the resolution settings, roughly works out to about the size of a 3x2 inch print. Large enough to get a good view on a computer monitor but not really good enough for a decent size print. Also put your copyright logo/mark on the images in a corner somewhere. A website/blog address or just a name and date will do and it'll act like an advert for your website in image searches.

I don't mind people who borrow images to promote me or if they link the websites. You have to be careful not too go too far down the protectionist road. Some photographers watermark their images so much that it spoils the photograph. Let people see the work and the talent you have but don't give them opportunity to take it and use it for their own ends. Protect your work. It's yours and yours alone.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

SoFoBoMo

Earls Court, London, UK

You may be wondering what the heck I'm talking about with a post title like SoFoBoMo. The title refers to Solo Photo Book Month, an online project that I've been looking forward to signing up to since i discovered it last year.

The idea is simple. You have one month (31 days actually) to shoot, edit and create your own photography book (an electronic or printed version) about any theme/subject you choose. Thirty five images are required, although it can be more, and ALL of the work must be carried out in that 31 day period starting no earlier than May 1, 2009, and ending no later than June 30, 2009. It sounds easy but i think it will prove a tough challenge. The finished book will be available to download from the website/blog.

Book design was a small part of my photography degree, although i must admit that at the time i considered it as an unnecessary distraction. Why on earth would i want to create a book? My attitude to book design has since changed as I've become older and far more broad minded photographically. I think i can produce a great looking book and learn a few things too. I still have to decide on the subject matter and whether it's shot using a film or digital camera. I'm thinking digital just to make it slightly easier for this first book.

If you think you'd like to take part in the SoFoBoMo project, have a look at the website at http://www.sofobomo.org/2009/.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Up on high

Tyne & Wear Metro high above Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

There seems to be so much good photography about at the moment. Over the last week, I've been amazed at the excellent imagery that I've come across. Several of those superb images were posted on the blog last week. I especially loved the cityscape work which i thought was fresh and unique in it's documenting of the city as a landscape.

In a few weeks i will be doing my own cityscape photography, and I'll will be blogging throughout the day on Twitter as i do it, giving hints about what I'm up to, locations in Newcastle Upon Tyne and i'll try to post a photo or two... if i can. A number of weeks ago, i mentioned that i wanted to post whilst taking images and this is the first stage of that experimental process.

I'll be using Twitter to do this via text at first, but i hope to broaden this out over the year so that text AND newly taken images will be seen within minutes of them being taken. It's ambitious i know.... but it will be fun to try :o)

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Northern snow

On the corner near the village shop - North Yorkshire, UK

It took its time getting here but it finally arrived. A nice layer of snow after about two hours of snowfall. Whether the snow will still be here tomorrow is another question. Snowfall in most areas of Britain rarely last longer than a couple of days.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Through the window

One of Floriane de Lassée's magnificent cityscape portraits

Photographers are an inquisitive bunch. They may deny it but it's a fact that photographers have this unquenchable fascination with the world at large. It's a human thing that we like to know what's going on around us, and photographers just take that interest one stage further - they record it.

This image, and the others in the collection, remind me of the Alfred Hitchcock's film 'Rear Window' that ironically featured a photographer, played by the great Jimmy Stewart, as the main character. Two separate photographers, Floriane de Lassée and Gail Albert Halaban, have brilliantly documented two great cities, Paris and New York, using the cityscape, night lights and windows to create a very intimate portrait of people going about their everyday lives in a large city.

The images are beautifully shot and are landscape images as much as they are portraits of the people featured in the photographs.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Fire Storm

Bush fires near the township of Tonimbuk, 125 kilometers (78 miles) west of Melbourne, Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009. Image by Associated Press

Although there has been a lot of TV coverage of the Australian bush fires, it is a photograph that really captures the ferocity of a bushfire. Looking at the fire in the photograph above you could almost believe that the flames were in fact a hot liquid smothering the trees and shrubs.

So far the death toll has been around 200 but the numbers are bound to go up as the true extent of the fires becomes clear. More images documenting the stories of people involved in this terrible event can be found HERE.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Southern snow

Snowing near Big Ben - Image by Reuters

Britain has been locked in some serious snowy weather recently with heavy snowfall virtually grinding London to a halt earlier this week. More cold and snowy weather is expected to arrive over the next few days putting further pressure on the transport system.

A lot of wintery weather images were taken this week. Over 16,000 were sent to the BBC news desk by viewers, but for me it's this Reuters news agency shot of Big Ben in the snow that's the winner. The south of England has been hit badly by the snow with the north of England remaining largely untouched by the severe weather.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Twittering away

Cromer sea front - Summer 2007

Blimey... it's nearly a week since i lasted posted on the blog. I do have a set of good excuses though starting with the main distraction of the week -the design and launch of the new website. Well, when i say new i probably mean tweaked and altered really. The basic feel of the website remains the same although the site was built from scratch - I've just incorporated a few cosmetic improvements and improved the layout of the website. More improvements will follow over the next few weeks.

The second item regards a twitter page that I've started at www.twitter.com/richflintphoto . For those unfamiliar with twitter, the easiest way to explain it is that it's a micro blog that can be easily updated via a computer or mobile phone. You are limited to 140 characters so messages remain short but I've come to enjoy twittering .... as it's called. I post weblinks i come across, news items and my day to day happenings.

The twitter page has an RSS feed so it can be subscribed to like any blog and I'll be using twitter to complement the main Richard Flint Photography blog. I'll mention what i'm up to, projects i'm working on and forthcoming RFP blog posts... oh and a few other things besides. If you have a twitter page pop over and say hello.
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