My time in the archive

Since November I have been visiting Jinx Rodger and the George Rodger Archive investigating its stories. Jinx is so lively and warm at her grand age of 89; she doesn’t act a day over 30 really. She still dreams of being in a world of travelling with George across continents meeting new people and taking their photographs. It’s a life she looks back on with such delight and nostalgia.

When I met Jinx, of course she had a lot of questions about what I wished to do but at that point I wasn’t sure. It’s funny, I have never really set foot in an archive properly until the George Rodger Archive. I instantly fell in love with it, just like herself. It is full of so many treasures and Jinx has countless stories about the work even before she met George. Her knowledge and memory of her earlier life with George is so great and her diction is perfect. Once inspired to be an actress, Jinx speaks well, almost as well as George wrote, which made it easy to record her speaking about the archive. I wouldn’t have to ask too many questions to get answers or stories.

I remember on the ride back from the first visit to Jinx that there are so many stories worth telling in this archive. Carole Naggar was there and she was interested in looking at the Bergen Belsen work so we peaked at that; from just one day George spent there there are news articles, prints, contact sheets and a diary entry. It was fabulous (despite the harrowing context).

I discovered that all of George’s work pre-Magnum is still under copyright of Time/Life and so although she has print copies, when she gets requests she sends the enquirer over to Time. The George Rodger Archive will not receive its rights to his early work until 2065 with current copyright law.

On recurring visits to Jinx I began to use my audio recording skills to capture her thoughts, not just writing them down but having authentic sound notes of her voice as she guided me through the archive. On my earlier visits she spoke of the Nubas, Cicely (George’s first wife), Robert Capa and his death, the beginning of Magnum and so-on. There is such a breadth of knowledge stored there and Jinx can pick out information so easily it’s fascinating. On Jinx’s reflection of learning the news of Capa’s death she spoke solemnly with a lump in her throat; from all the praise of Capa I felt I had real confirmation that it was true and Capa wasn’t just idolised because of his tragic death. This is an important story in its own right. However, I thought that Capa has just had many celebrations following his 100th birthday celebrations in 2013 and I wanted this project to solely be about George (and Jinx).

Likewise, with all the content from the early days of Magnum, Jinx has countless stories of the Magnum collective from the 1950s. She shown me photographs of her with various photographers and friends such as Eve Arnold and Henri Cartier-Bresson only but to name a couple. The insights into this world are so thorough and colourful that it’s like being in a time machine. Jinx talks of her friends as though I know them as well- it’s amazing.

As time went on, I found that Jinx spoke more and more about George and Africa. Afterall, her home pays homage to Africa with its velvety prints and eclectic ornament collection. Jinx gave me a thorough insight into George’s rare meeting with the Nubas; Leni Riefenstahl was the only other photographer to do so. She shown me the letters George and Cicely sent her at the time while she still worked in New York; letters Jinx sent to her parents even including George’s travels; and his diary entries. There were so many different pieces of the archive which could make up such a rich story which has already been told so often, but not from the archive itself. I knew then that this was it and I could do so much more with this story. I also wanted to explore Jinx’s personal tie to the archive and her involvement in it; her letters are important too.

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