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.
What Was the South African Military Doing in the Central African Republic?
African politics is a weird mixture of ancient tribal mentalities and democratic ideals imported from the West. It’s proven to be a pretty volatile combination on the continent and one that spurs much of its political strife. One country that’s had to deal with the consequences of that unique approach to governance recently is the landlocked Central African Republic (CAR), home to a violent upheaval that’s been going on since late last year.
In January 2013, South Africa’s ruling ANC party sent 400 troops to the CAR. Ostensibly, they were there to help the country’s president, Francois Bozizé, fight Séléka, the coalition of rebel groups revolting against Bozizé and his government (they allege that Bozizé isn’t honoring peace agreements made after the 2004-2007Central African Republic Bush War). The thing is, the Central African Republic had been suspended from the African Union because of the uprising, which—in theory—should have disqualified them from receiving external military aid.
There is much speculation over why South African President Jacob Zuma deployed his forces to support the CAR’s clearly failing and dictatorial government. The theory picking up the most steam is that both the ANC and a number of its individual members have private mineral and natural resource interests in the CARthat they wish to protect. There are many South African companies exploiting the oil the CAR has to offer, with most of them linked to powerful political figures in South Africa and arguably fueling the coffers that drive the ANC’s political machine.
One such company is DIG Oil, a company prospecting in the southeast of the CAR. Zuma’s nephew sits on the board of DIG Oil—something that suggests Zuma might have more than a passing business interest in the company. It also suggests—if you’re a fan of linking pretty blatant points—that Zuma may well be using the South African military as a private security service to protect his and his cronies’ international business interests.
Ilvy Njiokikjien talks about photographing a racist paramilitary training camp in South Africa - Pics + Interview
Smile and Say “Passion Gap” - Cape Town Teens Are Pulling Out Their Front Teeth
Having your four top teeth removed for the sake of fashion may seem a little extreme to the squeamish, but in the Cape Flats, an area in Cape Town, South Africa, where many nonwhites were forcibly relocated during apartheid, getting your chompers yanked out of your skull is on par with ear piercings. It’s common for teens to have teeth removed so they can buy flashy dentures, which are seen as status symbols and range from basic, street-cred-devoid porcelain to iced-out displays of gold and diamonds. The trend is widely known as the “passion gap,” and according to urban legend it started in a South African prison where high-ranking gang members would beat the teeth out of their “wyfies” (prison bitches) so that they could give better blowjobs.
Rapper Isaac Mutant was born and raised in the Cape Flats, so he seemed like a good person to ask about passion gaps. He wouldn’t tell me whether he himself had a gap but happily answered nearly all of my other questions.
VICE: How did this whole passion-gap trend start?
Isaac Mutant: Ah, man, it was never a trend at all. Hell, the passion gap is a fucking way of life, my bra. It’s always been there as a part of colored culture.
When you say “colored,” do you mean people who don’t fall into the classifications of black or white?
Yeah, colored people are, like, between black and white. It’s kind of a political thing, but colored people could be defined as all the fucking leftovers of South Africa. Doesn’t matter what their background is; colored is just all the people in poverty who were forgotten about. Poverty is what linked us all together, and also what forced us to deal with shit ourselves, so the passion gap came out of that as, like, a way of identifying yourself as part of colored culture.
Back in June, we invited South African rave-rap crew Die Antwoord to play their first show in New York City. They are one of our favorite bands and their performance that day was one of the most hectic, intense and amazing shows we had seen in a long time. While we were hanging out with them here, Ninja and Yo-Landi kept talking about a little monster called Tokoloshe, the most feared of all African demons. Ninja told us about how when he was growing up, his nanny would use a stack of bricks to raise her bed up, just to keep the Tokoloshe away at night. It turns out this is a fairly common practice among women in South Africa since this hairy, pot-bellied dwarf, unlike your typical Western boogiemonsters, is believed to have a penis the size of a horse’s and a penchant for sneaking into people’s bedrooms and raping them.
The story goes that once you’ve slept with a Tokoloshe, you’ll never be satisfied by a man ever again—it typically leads to divorce and basically ruins your life. This phenomenon is so commonplace that the South African Daily Sun regularly features cover stories about Tokoloshes raping women, men or stealing groceries, and even publishes theories about remote-controlled Tokoloshes used to steal peoples’ money.
Ninja and Yo Landi invited VBS.TV to South Africa to try and find this demon even though no one has ever filmed this thing, or seen a picture of it before. We talked to crime reporters at the The Daily Sun, people on the streets of Johannesburg, and even sangomas (witch doctors) about the Tokoloshe’s origins and what you can do to keep him at bay.
See the rest at VBS.TV: VBS & Die Antwoord Present: Tokoloshe — Trailer - VBS Special | VBS.TV