Ian Berry is a genuine living legend. Not only has he documented some of modern history’s big events, he’s even played a role in history himself, as the only photographer to document the police massacre of protestors at South Africa’s Sharpeville township in 1960.
Lancashire-born Ian was working as a press photographer in the country. There had been other photographers on the scene, but police had ordered them all to leave. Ian, though, ignored their demands. “I thought: ‘I’ll keep a discrete distance and see what happens’,” he recalls.
Even when the massacre began, he didn’t panic. “I assumed the police were shooting over people’s heads or shooting blanks,” he explains. “So I started photographing. People were running towards me; then a woman right next to me fell over, and I realised they weren’t kidding.”
The shocking photos were used were used in court to prove that police had lied about the incident. They also appeared in magazines such as Life, Paris Match and Stern, boosting the growing anti-apartheid movement around the world.
Shortly after, Ian moved to Paris to work for an agency called Visa. One of his ﬁrst assignments there was to shoot the singer Édith Piaf. “She was marrying a Greek guy who was about a foot and a half taller,” he remembers. “I shot everything holding the camera above my head. I came out of that with a torn shirt, and I lost the viewﬁnder off one camera and the prism off another. It was fairly lively!”
In 1962, Henri Cartier-Bresson invited Ian to join Magnum in Paris; then two years later he moved to London to become the ﬁrst contract photographer for The Observer Magazine. He went on to document events such as Russia’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, conﬂicts in Israel, Ireland, Vietnam and the Congo, and famine in Ethiopia. Recent projects have involved tracing the route of the Silk Road, photographing the Three Gorges Dam project and shooting in Greenland. As we speak, he’s just returned from Sicily, shooting for a travel piece. And he’s as enthusiastic as ever about photography. “It’s my passion,” he says, “and I think if you can make a living out of doing something you really enjoy doing, you’re very lucky.”
Olympus cameras and lenses play a big part in this continuing story, he adds. “I converted to Olympus after playing around with the OM-D E-M1 Mark I. It was a much better camera than the one I’d been using.” He’s since got his hands on the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, and couldn’t be happier with it.
“They are fantastic,” he says. “I love the body, the feel of it. I run around the world with them. I’ve never had any trouble with them; I’ve never had one break down. So from my point of view, they’re absolutely ideal.” He also has a number of Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED lenses in his kit, ranging from the 12mm F2 up to the 40-150mm F2.8 PRO.
On a shooting day, Ian will typically walk around with three, or sometimes four, cameras. “I’ve got two under my coat, one over my right shoulder with a short zoom on, and one in my camera bag on my left shoulder with a long zoom on,” he says. “I work 10-hour days and I leave them on all the time, so I need to carry batteries. But with the Mark II, the battery life is much improved so I can get away with two batteries, which is really good. Also, the battery life indicator is much more accurate, which is very useful to me.”
Berry shoots a lot in the tropics, where bright light can be an issue. “But the new Olympus has an excellent viewﬁnder,” he notes. “I’ve recently shot in Uganda, in Colombia, in very strong light, and it’s performed very well.”
Article featured in Digital Camera Magazine.