George Rodger – Village of the Nubas

Cover : Village of the Nuba by George Rodger Phaidon Publishing

This book is a celebration of George Rodger’s work from the Nuba tribes in 1940s Africa. It is the newer addition of the original book by George from 1955. It contains George’s own written pieces and of course, his photography from tribal Africa.

The introduction explores George’s desire to be a pro-humanist photographer, like many other photographers from the post-war period. It highlights points in George’s Life Magazine career, including the devastating effect of photographing Bergen Belson. It goes on to describing George’s ability to take a whole story from 30 rolls of film, without wasting a single frame.

All of his pictures have a spare and elegant composition, as if the shutter was only clicked when all of their elements had fallen into place in the viewfinder.

Peter Hamilton, 1999  (pg 6)

George Rodger was a firm believer that “the photographer never comes between subject and viewer: it is, in a sense, his absence which allows the scene to happen” (pg 8). And, this is a small book which showcases George’s ability to engage with his subjects, gain their trust and photograph them. With the film technology, it meant that the Nubas probably never saw how George photographed their culture, highlighting their trust in him to represent them to the rest of the world.

It is only possible to reach Kordofan by road during a very few weeks in the year between the floods and the rains as the region is protected from intrusions by vast impenetrable swamp lands

George Rodger (pg 23)

As George recounts his experience with the African tribes, he tells the story as ‘we’, meaning Cicely, his late wife, and himself. Cicely was pregnant during the Nuba adventure and unfortunately shortly after childbirth Cicely passed, as well as their daughter.

On page 31, George recalls first seeing the village in the distance: “they hung so high and were so much a part of the terrain that it seemed the little pot-bellied huts, with their thatched roods, had been taken by the handful and hurled against the mountainside to settle in the crevices.” It’s true when Jinx says that George was an excellent writer from his ‘English education’: his arrangement of words to describe a scene almost mirror the care that went into choosing the right time to press the shutter to take his photographs.

© George Rodger, 1949

The images following this piece of text show the mid greys of the landscape blurring with the village’s architecture. The next chapter informs us of the politeness of the Mek of Masakin Qsar: George and the Mek talked about what is interesting to their tribe which they would like George to photograph, leading to the Mek inviting the Rodgers to a Sibr (Arabic word meaning “commemoration of a tribal event […] which includes athletic prowess” pg 45).

A significant part of the book from this point is about the Nuba wrestlers: about the bracelet fighting and the victors. With the remainder discussing the architecture of the villages.

Eventually the winner was hoisted onto the shoulders of a husky giant to be carried through the throng while the women thrilled in a high key before him (pg 63)

© George Rodger 1949

George’s love for Africa and tribal life is indicative in the existence of this book as another edition of the original book from 1955. I feel that the fact that this is George’s photography that he himself felt humble with and that it is a successful piece of work indicates that this is important. George’s Africa lives in these small books to the public, but the full, rich story lies within his archive.

 

Rodger, G. (1999) Village of the Nubas. London. Phaidon Press. Last accessed 12th March 2014

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