Ian Berry Takes Jaw-Dropping Photos of Massacres and Floods
Magnum is probably the most famous photo agency in the world. Even if you haven’t heard of it, chances are you’re familiar with its images, be they Robert Capa’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War or Martin Parr’s very British holiday-scapes. Unlike most agencies, Magnum’s members are selected by the other photographers on the agency, so becoming a member is a pretty grueling process. As part of an ongoing partnership with Magnum, we will be profiling some of their photographers over the coming weeks.
In 1962, Ian Berry was invited to join Magnum by Henri Cartier-Bresson—which, in photographic terms, is about as close to canonization as you can get. His invitation followed his work in South Africa, where he was the only photographer to witness the massacre at Sharpeville, one of the more brutal events in late-apartheid history. His photos were retrospectively used in court to prove that the protest had been peaceful. He has covered conflict in Czechoslovakia, Israel, Ireland, and Vietnam.
VICE: I understand you’ve been with Magnum for longer than 50 years now. Is that correct?
Ian Berry: Yes. I’m horrified to admit it, but yes. That says something about my inability to let go, I think. I think of quitting every year and never get around to doing it.
You got your start in South Africa. How did you end up there?
Well, as a young Brit, I wanted to travel. And in those days you could get assisted passages to what was formerly, and in those times still, the Commonwealth. So, you could go to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa. South Africa sounded the most exciting. You know, I thought I’d be seeing lions on the streets of Johannesburg and so on.
As it happened, my family knew a photographer there who had just come back from the States assistingAnsel Adams. And he was prepared to stand as a guarantor for me for a year. I didn’t actually need a visa but you had to have someone guarantee you. So I legged it out to South Africa, and that was it really. No regrets, either—it was a very exciting time to be there.
You had no real formal training in photography beyond that, did you?
College for photography really didn’t exist at that time. The best thing you could do was become somebody’s apprentice, and that’s what I did. I mean, he was shooting on a four by five, and everything was lit, and so on. So it was great training, even though I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do.