George Rodger was born in Hale, Cheshire in 1908 and grew up in Cheshire and Scotland. He went to St Bee’s College, Cumbria, but left school at a young age to join the British Merchant Navy. Whilst travelling Rodger wrote travelogues and took photographs to illustrate them. Having spent two years travelling the world, in 1929 he went to the United States and saw out the Depression years in various jobs.
In 1936 Rodger returned to England and joined the BBC as a photographer. When the Second World War broke out, Rodger became a correspondent for LIFE magazine and spent the next seven years on assignments that took him to 62 countries in which he covered over 18 war campaigns. He photographed scenes of despair and comradeship during the London Blitz. Known as ‘the quiet Englishman’ to his colleagues, Rodger photographed the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, and brought images of the horror of the Nazi regime to outside world. He accompanied the British 11th Armoured Division into the camp and was one of the first photographers to document the devastation of the Holocaust.
Deeply affected by the suffering he had witnessed and photographed, Rodger stopped working as a reportage photographer after the war but continued to travel and photograph in the following decades, particularly in Africa where he documented vanishing tribes and wildlife. He also travelled widely through the Middle East, India and the Far East. In 1947 Rodger joined Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and David (Chim) Seymour in founding the photographic agency, Magnum Photos. His humanist approach to reportage gained him respect and renown amongst his colleagues. ‘You must feel an affinity for what you are photographing, you must be part of it,’ he said, ‘and yet remain sufficiently detached to see it objectively. Like watching from the audience a play you already know by heart.’
Rodger and his wife moved to the village of Smarden, Kent, in 1959. He died at his home in Kent in 1995.