The photos that changed history

Ian Berry was the only photographer at the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960. In the first of a new video series on BBC Culture, Through the Lens, he relives the event that marked a defining moment for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

“You wait for things to come together, and it all has to happen in a hundredth of a second,” says the Magnum photographer Ian Berry. “Because very frequently you don’t have another chance.”

Video

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Berry captured a pivotal moment in South African history: the Sharpeville massacre on 21 March, 1960. Sixty-nine men, women and children died and at least 180 were injured when police fired at a crowd of protestors in the township near Vereeniging. “I walked back to the car, and the cops opened fire,” says the British photographer in this video, the first in the new series Through the Lens, which marks the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos. “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 realise they were shooting real bullets into the back of people.”

Two years later, Berry was invited to join Magnum Photos. Over the next three months, Through the Lens will be featuring other defining events in history witnessed by Magnum photographers, including Bruce Davidson’s photos of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march and images of the 1978-9 Iranian Revolution by Abbas.

The massacre at Sharpeville prompted international condemnation – the event is now marked as a national holiday, Human Rights Day. Berry went on to photograph South Africa over the next four decades, revealing what it was like to live with apartheid. In the video he talks about his images, and how one in particular marked the moment he knew the regime couldn’t last. “I realised then that things were changing fast, and it was more or less the end of apartheid.”

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