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Feature: Roddy Child-Villiers

Roddy Child-Villiers 28th June 1963 - 3rd June 2014.
A personal recollection of Roddy and the impact that he has had on me and my work.
References: Wikipedia  Time Magazine  IR Magazine  Sebastian Devenish

My Uncle Rod - where do I start? Well, throughout my childhood there were two things about Rod that stood out to me. He always seemed to have a new car and a different girlfriend. This earned him a few nicknames; ‘Fast Car, Slow Rod’ and ‘Rod the God’ were the two classics. However, I used to get a kick out of ‘Master Roderick’. This was partly due to him being unmarried but also because there seems something inherently wrong when referring to a 50-year-old man as ‘Master’.

Anyway, as I got older, my admiration for my uncle grew stronger. His love for photography and ‘passion for fashion’ evidently had a big impact. Beyond that, his wicked sense of humour, charisma and immense people skills were a force to be reckoned with.

A fond memory and example of this were the night before his 50th birthday. The two of us, along with my partner Tegan and best friend Claire, found ourselves at a table in Raffles. During the evening Tegan accidentally knocked over a bottle of water, which landed upside down in Roddy’s lap. Without hesitation, he untied his shoes and casually removed his trousers. He folded them neatly and placed them on the seat beside him. Sitting there, in nothing but his boxers, the conversation carried on as usual.

Well, one can picture the onslaught from the bouncers at this swanky London club. He was, after all, a 50-year-old man sitting without trousers between two beautiful ladies. Somehow, his charm rubbed off on the bouncers, and we were able to carry on with the evening, Rod still in his underwear. Quite a feat!

Don’t get me wrong, Rod's people skills proved useful beyond smooth-talking his way out of a tricky situation at a nightclub.

In 1983, Roddy, in his early 20s with no formal training or background in photography, walked into the Time Magazine offices in London and managed to secure a meeting with the editor. He later convinced them to send him to Pakistan and Afghanistan so that he could photograph the Soviet-Afgan war.

So, off he went with two Olympus cameras.
Shortly after arriving in Afghanistan he managed to make friends with a group of Mujahideen militants and found himself living with them for a number of weeks. As one does...

Upon his return to the UK, he was immediately debriefed at MI5. Being an avid James Bond fan, he regarded this as one of the trip's highlights. However, shortly before his photographs went to print, the Pope John Paul II announced his forgiveness for the gunman who attempted to assassinate him in 1981. This lead to a furious change in direction for the issue, which resulted in Rod's story being diminished to a single black and white photograph.

To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think that he ever exhibited these photographs outside of his home. All of the photographs were taken on film, and all I have are the few scanned copies that were on his computer. If I find more, I will update the post.

Roddy ended up changing career quite dramatically. In 1985 he started work in London as a ‘jobber’ on the London Stock Exchange before moving into the communications field at College Hill Associates and Rexam. He then moved to Switzerland as head of communications for Philip Morris in 1999 where he was recruited as head of Investor Relations for Nestlé in August 2000.

Although his professional photographic career was short lived, he never stopped taking photographs. A camera was never far from his hands.

To my devastation, Roddy passed away on the 3rd of June 2014 after a long battle with cancer.
At the memorial, Sebastian Devenish came to me and suggested that we produce a book with Roddy’s photographs. Sebastian was a good friend to Roddy, fellow photographer and part of the reason for this post.

I asked Sebastian whether he wanted to write anything, to which I received the following:

I still have the email from 2006... " Sebastian, I was wondering whether you are the Sebastian Devenish who went to Woodcote House at the same time as I did. Roddy".
That was exactly 30 years since we last spoke. It was interesting to learn after all those years that Roddy, like me, had also a deep interest in photography. While I was at college trying to fathom Ansel Adam's zone system to make the perfect print, Roddy was selling Time Magazine, his future project, which was to photograph the Russian invasion of Afghanistan from the Mujahideen perspective... I can't imagine what the picture editors of Time must have thought of him but he must have had the 'chutzpah' to convince them of his plan.
'Chutzpah' is what any successful photographer needs as much as technical or creative ability.  I gather Roddy then bought a camera and spent a couple of weeks taking photos around London, to learn the trade, before setting out to Afghanistan. There is no doubt a little more time spent learning the profession would have been a benefit, but Roddy was not the kind of man to hang around. On his return from Afghanistan the picture editors of Time did plan to run his story... a dream for any photographer... but was dropped at the last hour when the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II robbed Roddy his moment of glory.
The rest is history. It is fitting that his nephew Freddie, also a photographer, has finally published Roddy's photos. These photos were a very big part of Roddy's life.
Would he have become a professional photographer had his photos been published? I can't say but what I do know is that not many photographers drive an Austin Martin, and we all know how much he loved his cars.

So long Roddy


Roddy has always been a huge inspiration to me - ever supportive of my work and always impartial in his views. I miss him!

Here follows a selection of his work: