Legends of Photography, Miniseries

In Memoriam Jerry Berndt (1943-2013)

  • Jul 21, 2013

I am dedicating this post to the civil rights photographer Jerry Berndt, who sadly passed away in Paris earlier this month. Jerry and I first came into contact in 2012. I interviewed him for Hungry Eye Magazine and was immediately taken with his charm, experience and dedication to image making as well as civil rights.

He led an extraordinary life documenting in war-torn countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti. He also made enduring images of American public protest from the 1960s; while spearheading elements of the civil rights movement itself.

He has amassed an enormous body of work and to me his pictures are great. They serve as a powerful reminder of the human capacity for states of violence, injustice, sadness and ignorance as seen through the eyes of a man who has willingly embraced them all.

His photographs are included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the International Center of Photography (New York), and the Bibliotheque National (Paris).

In his own words, “If I go out with a camera and I am angry, I will look for angry things and I will find them, and the photographs when you look at them will say this. That’s what I always thought was the job of making pictures – that when you look at the image you should feel what I want you to feel.

“I used to teach photography and would tell my students, isn’t it interesting that when people go out with a camera, there are three things they always photograph – babies, animals and old men and old ladies. Why do you think that is? It’s because none of these people are going to whack you in the head. That’s why it is so fun for me to make photographs that don’t fit. That’s the job of the photographer.”

I will miss our chats Jerry, and your rage against the machine.

Sean Samuels

Sean is a bookseller in the Las Vegas gallery. Originally from the UK, he has a degree in English from the University of Bristol and an interest in photography. He has served as the US Editor for Hungry Eye Magazine, the Deputy Editor for Photography Monthly Magazine, and as a Script Editor for the BBC. When not selling books, he enjoys watching films and exploring the US backcountry and is a volunteer with Red Rock Search and Rescue in Las Vegas.

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5 Responses to “In Memoriam Jerry Berndt (1943-2013)”

  • Chris Enos says:

    Jerry was a very special friend. I recently heard about his death. The last time I talked with him was just before he moved to Paris. Can anyone fill me in? Thank you

  • Michael Klein Berndt says:

    Thank you for the beautiful post of my brothers passing. It is greatly appreciated…….

  • C Ishino says:

    I remember first meeting Jerry at his home, when he was married to Judy and he lived with his daughter, Emma, who was very young at the time. My ex, Danny S, and I were invited over to their house for dinner. Jerry showed us some personal photos that he was working on at the time (early 1980s) of his daughter’s dolls, dollhouse and other toys with which she played. Jerry had captured the quiet after moments, when Emma had abandoned her make-believe world and moved on. When looking at his sharply focused, brightly lit, and color photos, I saw how Jerry had captured the poignancy of his daughter’s play – revealing how she might have had one doll relate to another, or how a pink tutu had been tossed aside perhaps in favor of a dress. I do not remember the exact contents of each photo in this series, but I do recall being moved by tender documentation by Jerry, the father. Here was a man, who lovingly saw and revealed such deep insight into his daughter’s imagination, by making her seemingly childish rubble into monumental moments observed and preserved. It was only later that evening, I would discover that he was street photographer, who had just published his startling photo book, The Homeless: Missing Persons, revealing the joys (a marriage) and despair of people living in homeless shelters.

  • William Hicks says:

    Jerry was the first and last photography teacher I met in all my too many years as a student who was just simply real; he didn’t bulls*** for a moment. I loved that. Even when he was guarded, he would speak in that direct, unabashedly forthright way, as a father might…but make no mistake…He didn’t really care about what you did or didn’t do… it was as if his inner voice was saying “look, this is my opinion on things… I have a lot more experience than you so take it or leave it. But trust in me, you will remember this conversation, so choose wisely.”

  • Jinx Nolan says:

    I am sad to hear about Jerry’s death too soon.

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