George Rodger
An Adventure in
1908 - 1995

Carole Naggar
George Rodger was one of the premier photographers during the golden age of photojournalism. It all began with the new film from Kodak and Agfa using Leicas, portable 35mm cameras that could produce "such a fine grain that a full contact sheet could be used as a cover picture for an issue of Berliner Illustrierte, one of the pioneering German illustrated magazines."

Rodger, along with André Kertész, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Szymin, Robert Capa worked for magazines that focused on picture over text --- Life, Vu, Picture Post, Regards, and Münchner Illustrierte Presse. It was a new artform, and its great impetus came from World War II which created a new view war. That is, that it stank. Between 1940 and 1945, Rodgers works came out of his assignments in England, North Africa, Iran, Burma, and --- during the last stages of the war --- Western Europe.

It was one of his last wartime assignments that changed his life, made him vow to never record the destruction of war, ever again. It happened on 20 April 1945, the day he entered the camp at Bergen-Belsen.

§     §     §

I've always wondered about photographers, those who are there to record grief, mutilation, tragedy, bombings, blood and death. The one below I remember from the early days of WWII. We are told in the notes that the photograph was taken on the streets of Paris the day the Germans took over the city.

He's not handsome, this weeping man --- not beautiful. But there can be no doubt that this proper, well-dressed man is grief-stricken. More than those behind him, he seems to know what will happen to his city, to his life, to his world over the next four years. There are no words necessary. The photograph tells it all.

I've often wondered about the photographer who took this astonishing shot. What did he think? What did he feel? Did he worry about invading a man's sacred space? Did he think that because he was behind a camera he had a right to extract, even gain from another man's grief? Was he weeping too? Did he excuse himself for intruding himself on the man's sorrow (capturing a sorrow that can --- even now --- capture the rest of us?)

Every time I look in the newspapers or magazines or on TV and see just such a picture --- a woman after her son has been murdered; the face of a man whose son has died in the military service; a granny who has been divested of her home by some charlatan --- I think of the photographer who suddenly appears on the scene and without permission envelops someone else's tragedy, stealing it for his own.

Rodger had an answer before he went to the concentration camp. He was creating art. He even described the photos he took at Bergen-Belsen "artistic compositions." He was working, he wrote in his journal, with "honesty," "clarity," "simplicity of purpose."

But something else happened inside of him. Rodger permitted himself to be interviewed but once about his experience, towards the end of his life, in The Guardian.

    This natural instinct as a photographer is always to take good pictures, at the right exposure, with a good composition. But it shocked me that I was still trying to do this when my subjects were dead bodies. I realized there must be something wrong with me. Otherwise I would have recoiled from taking them at all. I recoiled from photographing the so-called "hospital," which was so horrific that pictures were not justified ... From that moment, I determined never ever to photograph war again or to make money from other people's misery. If I had my time again, I wouldn't do war photography.

As Naggar reports, "Photographing at Belsen was for Rodger a personal disaster. It triggered a guilt even greater than that he usually harbored, as if being a witness to horror, and taking pictures of it, was something unspeakable and forbidden. As if it somehow made him an accomplice. He was so traumatized by Belsen that for the next forty-five years he could not bear to look at the pictures he had made there and wished he could erase them. Yet Belsen resisted being forgotten."

§     §     §

Rodger spent the rest of his life taking pictures in the South Pacific, or in Africa --- with especial attention to the Nubians, the Tuaregs, the Bachimbiri. True to his word, he never photographed a battle more serious than Korongo wrestling.

I was still quite young when I saw Rodgers pictures out of Belsen. What I saw made no sense to me. I had so little experience with hunger and dying that to see piles of those who had been purposely starved to death was meaningless.

What I did sense was that a catastrophe in human behavior and human understanding had taken place. I also knew that those who created this disaster carried a something strange in their genes: that is, an ability to evade what we had always defined as human conscience.

I looked up Rodgers pictures from Belsen and remembered none of them. What I did remember were the four widely circulated shots of female SS guards, taken the day after liberation. They were women between twenty and twenty-five who, it was reported, were somehow prompted to be even more cruel than their male counterparts.

For some reason, I never forgot them, these mug shots of women who had created something I could never have thought possible; could not, until many years later, conceive.

--- C. A. Amantea


For Pets
And People

Dale Power
Dale Power offers a choice of six caskets for your average home-kit coffin builder. There are three full-sized varieties for people and three miniature sizes for pets. The people coffin comes in several dimensions --- 5'8", 6'0", and 6'3" --- along with three wood styles: Pine, Plywood, and Poplar.

The people coffins are none but the most simple, using spline or biscuits, one-inch wood, finger joints, and dado cuts. In the fanciest, there is a simple decorative molding.

The pet coffins are finger-jointed, with mitered corners and decorative appliqué. In some, the outsides are stained "using long strokes to simulate planking." The author suggests that until needed, one can use people coffins for a blanket box or any other type of dry storage. Those that are constructed with legs can be used as a coffee table.

Power is, if we may coin a phrase, deadly serious. There are line drawings of the various coffins, with exact measurements. There are almost a hundred detailed photographs of the construction process, including spraying of the lid with textured stone finish spray "for something different," and the installation of cotton batting and silk lining (which will, he tells us, involve some light sewing) and a small pillow.

The author does say, in the introduction, that "coffin making has always been a grave matter." However, considering that your local funeral home will stick you for anywhere from $1,000 (for the basic) to $15,000 (for one of the gaudy models), I'm thinking this might not be a bad investment. Just in case.

One carpenter friend of mine says that even the largest of Power's casket with fine lining shouldn't set you back more than $100 and, as a storage cabinet, certainly will be a delightful, provocative conversation piece for your guests.

--- D. D. Winters

Randy Taguchi
Glynne Walley

Yuki wants to be a psychologist, but after her shrink seduces her (on his desk!) she decides to go uptown and do stocks. She says she thinks of the ups and downs of the market not unlike an "hysterical woman."

While this is going on, her brother Taki commits suicide. He doesn't slash his wrists, jump out of a window, or down pills. He just stays in his rental room, stops eating, doesn't go out in the world, starves.

This is the beginning of strange adventures of Yuki, adventures that start her on the path of becoming a Yuta --- one of the ancient priestesses from Okinawa who have the ability to summon "the spirit of the earth, sleeping deep in the ground."

All this may sound rather corny, but Ms. Taguchi is a natural story-teller, and has an interesting take on the four S's: psychology, sex, the spiritual, and schizophrenia. The theory, in brief, is that there are those --- like Yuki and her brother --- who are born with special powers. But regular, normal life and regular, normal people tend to force them into isolation because they just see too much. The conflict between their interior world and the world out there ends up frying their souls which, along with their special powers, pushes some of them into madness.

Not knowing why she feels so distant from the rest of humanity, Yuki finds herself stuck with smells --- smells everywhere, most especially the smell of her brother's decomposing body. To the doctors and psychology students around her, this comes to smell of schizophrenia. In a public park, atop a jungle gym, she suddenly realizes that "The universe is composed of vibrations. Life is vibration. I finally understood everything."

    It's all clear now ... I resonate with fine tremblings ... Having sex with the world. If this is breaking down, it is the ultimate. It's ecstasy.

She throws away her rings, watch, earrings ... and her clothes. "I wanted to take everything off and become nothing but my vibrations."

In Outlet Ms. Taguchi combines theories of psychology, Freudianism, family dynamics, and spiritualism to conjure up a story that is hard to resist. Yuki appears to be a Dostoyevskian character: a blend of Alyosha the saint, Dmitri the gentle, and Ivan the scoffer.

Learning of her own prophetic ability makes her abandon the clichés of psychiatry, especially the self-indulgent ways of her own lusty psychoanalyst. She ends up analyzing him, figuring out why he had to seduce her in an especially icy way. He doesn't care for this rôle-reversal at all. Mostly because she is able to sense the roots of his particular madness.

Her preoccupation with spiritualism, "plugging into outlets," and death (and its smells) all give an edge to Ms. Taguchi's narrative. But it is Yuki's mad visions that provide the best writing. This, just before she climbs the jungle gym:

    I saw a middle-aged woman of about fifty sitting beside me. Her spare hair was teased up in a perm, exposing her dry scalp. Her face was powdered white and her lips were red, reminding me of those ceremonial masks they used in southeast Asia. When she brought her face close to mine I could smell the powder. "Break down," she said ... She clutched my arm and repeated, "Break down. Throw it away, everything, break it down .... She was going to tear my arm off. "Throw it away, break it down." Her mouth opened wide like a serpent's.

--- Lolita Lark
Send us e-mail


Go Up     Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH