“I never claimed to be a great photographer, and even at this point I don’t.” -Chuck Rogers

One Friday morning, I was having coffee with Chuck Rogers at Einstein’s on North Druid Hills Road in Atlanta, GA. Chuck was showing me some of his photographs. I saw a Mercury/Redstone lifting off of the pad and said “That’s Alan Shepard’s launch!”

I was so excited to see this 8-by-10 inch black and white print (opening photo, top row, first image on left). I listened to that launch with my mom in our kitchen in Emmett, Idaho that May 5, 1961 when I was nine years old, at the exact moment he took the picture. I told Chuck that I heard the launch he photographed some 50 years before. The next time we met he gave me a copy of the print. It is one of my dearest treasures.

Chuck Rogers: Artist, photographer

Chuck was an artist before he picked up a camera. He painted a car for the department store Dickson-Ives while he was still in high school in Orlando, FL. Deciding to learn photography after graduation, Chuck worked at the Palm Beach Post-Times photographing baseball spring training. His love of cars led him to shoot the races at Daytona Beach (opening photo, bottom row, third from left).

On Photography: Chuck Rogers, 1931-present
Chuck Rogers was an artist first

Cape Canaveral: Beginnings of space flight

Chuck moved to Melbourne, FL and worked for a photo studio. Every month, he would make the trip to the Cape to apply for a position as a photographer. After six months of applications, Chuck was hired to join 150 other photographers working for NASA to photograph America’s emerging space program.

During this the 12 years there, he shot some failures and finally, many, many successful launches. In one year alone he photographed 100 attempted launches. Not all of them lifted off on time, but Chuck and his cameras were there nonetheless.

He made pre-launch photographs with 8-by-10 cameras and actual launch photos with long lenses on 4-by-5s.

On Photography: Chuck Rogers, 1931-present
Chuck Rogers shooting a pre-launch photo of an Atlas rocket.
On Photography: Chuck Rogers, 1931-present
Chuck Rogers with the 1000mm ultra long lens, Big Bertha, on a 4-by-5 Graflex camera located 3,500 feet from the launchpad.

Explorer I

America’s first satellite, Explorer I, launched on Jan. 31, 1958 (opening photo, top row, second image on bottom). Chuck Rogers was one of the only photographers designated by NASA to provide photographs of launches for release to the press. A derivation of Chuck’s Explorer 1 photo made it onto a US postage stamp.

Many publications, from Paris Match to LOOK have published rocket images made by Chuck Rogers. During these early years, photographs carried the photographer’s name on the back. This helped Chuck become fairly well known.

Chuck took a day off from the Cape to photograph the first launch of a missile from a submarine for National Geographic magazine. The photo ran in the magazine as a 3-page wide foldout. He photographed President Kennedy with the Saturn rocket at the Cape seven days before the assassination in Dallas, TX.

The most difficult photograph

One of Chuck’s most nerve racking assignments was from IBM to photograph the rollout of the Saturn 5 rocket from the top of the Vehicle Assembly Building, at the time the largest volume of open space in a single structure in the world. Chuck propped himself on his elbows and hand held his Hasselblad SuperWide camera to make the shot (opening photo, top row, second from right). It was 550 feet to the ground — a long fall if he slipped. Chuck told me that photograph earned him the most money he’d ever made from a shot. It wouldn’t be his last big money making photo.

Atlanta & advertising

Chuck and his best friend, Bob Special, worked together at the Cape until 1969 the year of man’s landing on the moon. Their next venture was opening an advertising photography studio in Atlanta. Chuck contacted Coca-Cola for work. Back then, every photographer had at least one job from Coke. At the time he met with Coke, they were planning an annual calendar. Chuck shot 160 35mm slides of different themes for it all on spec. If Coke liked his work, they would hire him to reproduce the selected setups on 4-by-5.

Two days after dropping off the two Carousel slide trays, they called Chuck back telling him to send an invoice. They had decided to use his 35mm work for their 1969 calendar. He got the job to do the next year’s calendar, too.

1978 Peachtree Road Race

The Peachtree Road Race is the world’s largest 10K. The race is run on the Fourth of July during the hottest and most humid part of the year in Atlanta. In 1978, Chuck stationed himself just past the finish line in Piedmont Park. Chuck’s enduring photograph of Tim Withington in “Rain After the Race” (opening photo, bottom row, last image) is his most famous picture. It was featured on the cover of the December 1978 cover of Runner magazine, and licensed by Nike for a run of 25,000 posters.

A month later, Nike had sold out of them, so they licensed it for another 25,000 posters. Over time, the photograph appeared on Nike billboards around the world. Chuck traveled to some of the cities to have photos of himself taken with the boards.

On Photography: Chuck Rogers, 1931-present
“Rain After the Race” in Paris, on display for Squibb — Chuck and photographer Jay Maisel and Chuck on a billboard of his photo.

“Last year, I got a check from Nike — 30 years later — they used it in the Nike Store in Buckhead (Atlanta).” Chuck said, “It’s the most profitable photograph I’ve ever made.”

There’s more

Chuck Rogers has spent his life making photographs. In 2015 he was invited to do a presentation of his work and his life at Emory University. Here is the video …

Sources: Fox-5 Atlanta, Chuck Rogers

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