August 12th, 2009 admin

This week I’m teaching a summer workshop at Fatamorgana (The Danish School of Art Photography) and have just come across a copy of Ian Berry’s The English (Penguin Books, 1978) in the school’s library. This small paperback book contains one hundred wonderfully insightful portraits from around the country taken by Berry in the mid 1970s. The work was funded by the first Arts Council Photography Bursary.


Berry was born in Preston, Lancashire and internationally known as a Magnum Photographer. He made his reputation in South Africa, where he worked for the Daily Mail and later for Drum magazine. He was the only photographer to document the massacre at Sharpeville in 1960, and his photographs were used in the trial to prove the victims’ innocence.

Most of the photographs in ‘The English’ were taken during 1975, although he photographed for two and a half years in total. Predominantly turning his camera on the people, rather than the landscapes, he photographed old and young of all classes; at home, at work, at leisure and the result is a sensitive portrayal of the nation or as Berry says “a personal exploration of English life.”


Whitby, Yorkshire


Country fair, Wiltshire (left) & Poole, Dorset (right)


Gateshead, Tyne and Wear (left) & Port Erin, Isle of Man (right)


Earl’s Court Motor Cycle Show, London (left) & Battersea Town Hall, London (right)


Royal Ascot Races (left) & Derby Day at Epsom Racecourse (right)

In his foreword to the book, Berry writes “thought I was born and grew up in the North of England, I was in the odd situation of being English and knowing very little about England, having spent much of my life abroad.” After a year documenting he concludes “England has changed less in the 15 years away than I thought – or at any rate what I photographed had changed less than I had expected. Also, England is the easiest country in the world in which to take photographs – in the way people react or rather do not react in the photographers’ presence.”

Most of the photographs were taken on Leica cameras with 28mm, 35mm and 50mm lenses on Ilford film (HP4 an HP5).


Doctor’s waiting room, Battersea, London


Durham (left) & Whitechapel, London (right)


Harrods Department Store, London (left) & Jarrow, Tyne and Wear (right)


New Year’s Eve, Trafalgar Square, London (left) &  Crufts Dog Show, London (right)


Horden, County Durham (left) & Leadenhall Market, London (right)


Serpentine Gallery, London (left) & Pub in Hansworth, near Birmingham (right)

There’s currently one used copy of the book listed on Amazon for £70.00.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Berry commented that his dream project would be to update his book on the English. I hope he gets the chance.


Whitby, Yorkshire (left) & Health farm near Haywards Heath, Sussex (right)


  1. Jonathan Allen Says:
    August 19th, 2009 at 8:51 am

    I’d love to find a copy of that somewhere. Not for £70 quid though. It’s such a shame that so many great photo books are out of print and unobtainable for less than a bleedin’ fortune. I recently got an old British Journal of Photography Annual for 1966 which has an eight page selection of Ian Berry’s work, alongside similar selections from other excellent photographers.( McCullin, Brandt Jones-Griffiths)
    Anyway, it says he was 17 when he first went to Africa to be assistant to an architectural photographer who trained under Ansel Adams. I just thought that may be interesting.
    And I wanted to say that I enjoy this blog very much,

  2. dee drummond Says:
    October 14th, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Hi, I was lucky enough to find the book in my local oxfam and in another ‘junk’ shop I found 5 photographs mounted that Ian must have taken of Poole for the local council. They had come from the local museum which has now closed down, I wish I had more, when I have the time, I will photograph and post as I havn’t seen these pictures apart from the little boy in the cardboard box. Love the blog, love Ian Berry.


  3. glynn freeman Says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 11:37 am

    I first became aware of Ian Berry’s work a year or so after this book was published when he was featured in a tv program presented by Bryn Campbell.
    I subsequently bought a copy of this book which is such a wonderful document of the diversity and eccentricity of our social structure and Ian’s ability to extract the ‘decisive moment’ with such precise geometry and balance within the frame puts him in my opinion alongside Cartier-Bresson as one of today’s most accomplished photographers in his field.
    I’m sure he was born in Preston but I believe he spends most of his time abroad now but it would be wonderful if someone would commission him to come back for a year or so and do another book on the English as things have changed somewhat.

    Certainly one photographer I would love to meet and have a chat to over a pint so if you’re listening Ian give me a shout when you’re next in London!


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