In 2009-10, I presented a George Rodger exhibition in London. I wanted to make it something truly special and different from the other exhibitions he had had over the years. In addition to his famous images from WWII and Africa, Jinx Rodger, his widow, kindly lent me a large group of ephemera; war diaries, the map of Africa, marking out his journeys, press passes, even the banjo he used to play as a child, material that had never been exhibited before.
I visited her home in Kent several times during the months leading up to the exhibition and she told me some wonderful stories about their life together, their travels and of course all the Magnum photographers. And then there was the story of “The Journey to Arles”. Except Jinx hadn’t been on it.
In 1976, Lee Miller and Roland Penrose were invited to the festival in Arles by Lucien Clergue. Man Ray, too frail to attend the ceremony in his honour, asked Lee Miller, his former muse and collaborator (she also broke his heart) to stand in for him.
So they were going to Arles and invited George Rodger to travel with them. As Jinx told me, “He told me shortly before they left, We’re going to Arles!. Meaning, I could stay at home and look after the children, while they were going off to Arles to have fun. I was not pleased!”.
And so they set off for Arles. They travelled in true style. In a big, American convertible with the top down. The summer of 1976 was exceedingly hot. And “The Merry Travellers” would soon experience just how hot it could be. The temperature rose and rose. Halfway to Arles, the heat had become unbearable so they stopped the car to unfold the top and get some shade, only to discover that the top was completely stuck. So they drove on. The sun was merciless. By the time they reached Arles, they were well and truly fried, especially George Rodger who suffered from acute sunstroke and had to go straight to bed. As Jinx told me with a smile, “He told me all about it when he came home. Did I fell sorry for him? Not a bit! Served him right I thought! ”