Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Nuba Wrestlers | Leni Riefenstahl

with 2 comments

In my previous post, I wrote how the Kordofan and the Nuba that Rodger visited is no more.  Arabs and Nuba no longer live as happy neighbours. Directly or indirectly, Rodger’s photos played a minor role.


Among many admirers of Rodger’s photos was Leni Riefenstahl, who had already been infamous for two films she made for Hitler when she was still in her early 30s.  For a film project she was planning, Riefenstahl had offered Rodger £1,000 to tell her where he had found the Nuba. With the memories of Belsen-Bergen still fresh in his mind, Rodger refused, but she embarked on the project anyway, which left Rodger extremely bitter.

In Farewell to the Nubas he wrote: “The gradual deterioration of the Nuba tribes began with the publication of Leni Riefenstahl’s glossy and misleading books in glaring colour which attracted tourists and travel operators to the area. In their seclusion, the million or so Nuba people might have remained unmolested by the world. But revealed in coffee-table books in their uncircumcised nudity, that was more than the Islamic fundamentalists could accept.”

Nevertheless, a note on the dustjacket of Riefenstahl’s first book, The Last of The Nuba (1973) credits Rodger’s work for inspiring her: “The author was so fascinated by this photograph taken by the famous English photographer George Rodger [he was a Scot] that for years she tried to find the Nuba in order to study the life of these primitive people.” A personal note followed: “Without the influence of your picture . . . this book would be never [sic] printed. Now we both are friends of ‘our’ Nuba People.”

This dedication further enraged Rodger: “There is an awful lot of tongue-in-cheek in that because I did not help her at all. Mind you, I think her pictures were very highly professional. They were certainly good pictures but there was no warmth in them. My pictures were very much part of the family and the people themselves.” This criticism was shared by Susan Sontag. In her 1974 essay Fascinating Fascism, Sontag wrote that the Nuba photos were “continuous with her Nazi work”.

Unhappily, Riefenstahl’s portrayal of Nuba lifestyle certainly opened up Kordofan to anthropologists, photographers, and documentary filmmakers. It also provoked a clampdown by Sudan’s predominantly Muslim authorities, for whom the Nuba way of life was either an embarrassment or an affront to their religious sensibilities. Successive governments in Khartoum have tried to clothe the Nuba and do away with their ‘primitive’ ways. They also accused the Nuba of supporting the southern Sudanese rebels, and supported the Baggara — whose nomadic lifestyle has been battered by years of drought and the growth of mechanised farming which has taken over vast tracts of land — with arms to take over the fertile Nuba villages.


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 20, 2012 at 5:44 pm

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Rodger was mostly Pissed for two reasons:

    HE knew that if Riefenstahl found the Nubas that she would take better pictures and Second,

    That After she found the Nuba, she took better pictures.

    I personally think his pictures are good…..but they are not great. Give any 12 year old a camera (Or ahem, just let them use their SMART-PHONES, and they will do just as well BUT compared to Riefenstahl’s (?)…Rodgers only make one say, “Hummmm…Look at them NAKED Africans!”

    Riefenstahl’s photos make the Nubas look heroic, cultured and fit for praise and admiration. Her style lifts them out of the realm of curiosity and places them on equal ground with the rest of the things we admire in the world (And thats what I think Burned his ass the most).

    Did Rodger bear animosity against Riefenstahl for being an unrepentant Nazi? Absolutely. But I believe that is almost beside the point. She was Better at the craft he hoped to aspire to and hoped to keep it secret so that it would always be his Provence. Proof of this hypothesis is that everyone who has gone there since has done as well, or better.

    Nazi or not, Riefenstahl was among the Best and Rodger, a wannabe. He only achieved notoriety because for a time he was the sole proprietor of a glory hole which as long as it was kept secret was his Provence alone but once found by other miners, mined with such aplomb that treasures uncovered exceeded his wildest dreams, proved to be his undoing, as evidenced by his own angst.

    Your Obt Svt.
    Col. Korn.
    Chief O” Mayhem in the Great WW-2 (And the Cold War)
    Now Chief O’ Security, Sanitation (And the Complaint Dept.)
    OXOjamm Studios.

    Col. Korn

    December 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm

  2. […] Nuba Wrestlers | Leni Riefenstahl Tweet […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: