For the first episode of the BBC Culture video series Through the Lens, photojournalist Ian Berry talks about witnessing and photographing a defining moment in South African history.
On March 21 1960, Magnum photographer Ian Berry was present to cover the Sharpeville massacre, which turned out to be a pivotal point in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. The British photojournalist recalls the event in the first episode of BBC Culture’s Through the Lens, and talks about the photos he took during the event, as well as in the four decades that followed as he lived with apartheid.
The massacre left sixty-nine men, women, and children dead and at least 180 injured when police fired at protesters in the township of Sharpeville near Vereeniging. Initially, Berry arrived to find no action happening, with the protesters chatty and friendly. Just as soon as he had more or less given up getting his story, that was when the event began to unfold.
“I walked back to the car, and the cops opened fire. I saw these kids running towards me, and initially I thought they were just shooting blanks… Only as they started to fall around me did I realize they were shooting real bullets into the back of people,” Berry said in his chilling account of the grisly event.
Berry would join Magnum two years later, as we would learn from the 2017 intro feature for the BBC Culture video series Through the Lens. He also went on to live and work in South Africa for the next four decades, shedding light about life with apartheid. In the full video, he also talked about the other photos he took during this time, showing the thought-provoking “black-white relationships”. This includes one in particular that made him realize “things were changing fast, and it was more or less the end of apartheid.”
“You wait for things to come together, and it all has to happen in a hundredth of a second,” Berry said, describing that part of the trick to being a photographer is anticipation. “Because very frequently you don’t have another chance.”
Check out the rest of the Through the Lens episodes for more stories about some of the most iconic and historic photos ever taken.
Screenshot image from the video by BBC Culture