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25 June 2013
George Rodger (19 March 1908 – 24 July 1995) was a British photojournalist noted for his work in Africa and for taking the first photographs of the death camps at Bergen-Belsen at the end of the Second World War.
Born in Hale, Cheshire, of Scottish descent, Rodger went to school at St.Bees School in Cumberland then joined the British Merchant Navy and sailed around the world. While sailing, Rodger wrote accounts of his travels and taught himself photography to illustrate his travelogues. However, he was unable to get his travel writing published; after a short spell in America, where he failed to find work during the Depression, he returned to Britain in 1936. In London he was fortunate to find work as a photographer for the BBC's The Listener magazine, which was followed in 1938 by a brief stint working for the Black Star Agency.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Rodger had a strong urge to chronicle the war. His photographs of the Blitz gained him a job as a war correspondent for Life magazine. He covered the war in West Africa extensively and towards the end of the war followed the allied liberation of France, Belgium and Holland. He also covered the retreat of the British forces in Burma and was probably the only British war reporter/photographer to be allowed to drive along and write a story on the Burma Road by travelling on it into China, with special permission from the Chinese commanding generals.
Most notably, Rodger was the first photographer to enter the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen in 1945. His photographs of the few survivors and piles of corpses were published in Life and Time magazines and were highly influential in showing the reality of the death camps. Rodger later recalled how, after spending several hours at the camp, he was appalled to realise that he had spent most of the time looking for graphically pleasing compositions of the piles of bodies lying among the trees and buildings.
One of the first photographs taken after liberation of Bergen-Belsen in 1945.
This traumatic experience lead Rodger to conclude that he could not work as a war correspondent again. Leaving Life, he travelled throughout Africa and the Middle East, continuing to document these area's wildlife and people.
In 1947, Rodger became a founder member of Magnum Photos and over the next thirty years worked as a freelance photographer, taking on many expeditions and assignments to photograph the people, landscape and nature of Africa. Much of Rodger's photojournalism in Africa was published in National Geographic as well as other magazines and newspapers.
An exhibition of Rodger's work was held at Imperial War Museum North in 2008.