Lois ‘Jinx’ Witherspoon was born in 1925 into a world of adventure. In a conversation with Jinx, I learnt a lot about her life with travel, photography, Magnum and, of course, her husband George.
“I’m a travel-ist by birth, I started travelling when I was one month old and probably never stopped, my father was a missionary and he was posted all over the place and we went with him. So travel was it and Africa I had never been to. I loved hearing about Africa from George”
Shortly after finishing her degree in New Mexico, Jinx headed to New York where she was a picture editor at the Ladies Home Journal for John Morris. This is how she came to meet George Rodger, the photographer made famous for his wartime photography in London, Europe and Belson. In Carole Naggar’s biography of George, she says that “[Jinx] spent more time with his stories than with those of other photographers, editing texts and selecting pictures” (pg 165, Naggar)
Jinx admitted to me that she was desperate to see the Africa George captured. Reading about it in Naggar’s biography and also in letters between Jinx and George in the late forties really highlights their passion for Africa. Jinx tried with John Morris to travel with George and his first wife Cicely for six weeks to help with the photo stories and to be a “feminine companion” to Cicely; but to no prevail. Jinx didn’t visit Africa until her assignment with George on the Marshall Plan and it was vastly different to what she was hoping.
A professional relationship with George was always very personal: they enjoyed writing one another and had common interests. Sadly, George’s first wife Cicely passed after childbirth. Jinx admitted to me that this was the first death she ever experienced for someone so close; Jinx was supportive of George and his work during his depressions in the years following Cicely’s death. With working and travelling together they grew very close and then Jinx Witherspoon became Jinx Rodger in January 1953.
“My dear father stopped being a missionary and retired to Akron Ohio as a presbyterian minister for the church and he married us for free… Didn’t cost a penny, I married a scotsman you see.”
In 1959, the Rodgers decided that it was time they found a ‘base’ with the expected arrival of their first child, Jennifer. This opportunity also meant that Jinx and George could also have a base for George’s photography and stories. Over the next few years the Rodgers worked hard renovating the four derelict cottages into a home for their ever growing family, at the same time as collecting George’s work from various offices and from friends.
Jinx today still works in the George Rodger Archives, responding to queries and helping her son Jonathan with the online website which showcases parts of George’s photographic career. Jinx has spent a lifetime in George’s world and still does. And in a tiny drawer in the archive there is Jinx’s own part for her very short-lived photographic career. She travelled Europe on a leave of absence before her involvement in Magnum and made picture stories; she said that all were sold, but never again did she seriously take photographs as she decided that her work was not nearly as good as other photographers at the time.
Hearing all about this world and the stories that Jinx has of their adventures is mesmerising. Listening to Jinx’s reflections of Magnum as a ‘sort of club’ whilst holding letters from Capa and Cartier-Bresson really takes me into a world leaps and bounds better than just reading about it all.
Naggar, C. (2003) George Rodger: An Adventure in Photography. New York: Syracuse Press.
Green, K. (2014) Jinx Rodger Interviews. Not published.
Rodger, G. Picture: Jinx Rodger Africa. Available Online: http://mediastore3.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/TR2/a/4/f/8/LON123486.jpg