Bert Hardy was born in London in 1913. He started work as a laboratory assistant in a photographic agency. After buying a small plate camera for 10 shillings he began getting his photographs published.
In 1938 Hardy became one of the first photographers to use a Leica 35mm camera. After working as a freelance until being recruited by Tom Hopkinson, the editor of Picture Post. Hardy became famous for his photographs of the Blitz and in 1942 was drafted into an army photographic unit.
Hardy narrowly missed being sent to cover the Dieppe Raid (the photographer who did go was killed). Hardy was with Allied troops that took part in the D-Day landings in June 1944. Hardy, receiving the pay of an army sergeant, also photographed the liberation of Paris on 25th August. He followed the troops into Germany and in one picture recorded General Miles Dempsey crossing the Rhine. He also took photographs of concentration camp victims.
Hardy returned to Picture Post and covered the Korean War and Vietnam War for the magazine. After the magazine closed in 1957 Hardy worked in advertising until his retirement ten years later. Bert Hardy died in 1995.
(1) Tom Hopkinson recruited Bert Hardy when he was working as editor of Picture Post . He wrote about it in his autobiography, Of This Our Time (1982).
To my great excitement, we found a remarkable new photographer. Bert Hardy was a young Cockney, the eldest of seven children, who had left school at fourteen. He left on a Friday afternoon and started work on Saturday morning in a printing and developing works at ten shillings a week with sixpence an hour overtime.
When Bert Hardy came in to see me he was in his twenties and already an experienced cameraman. To try him out I offered him a difficult assignment. The Blitz had started and I asked him to take pictures inside street shelters. No flash must be used and the pictures must make the reader feel he was inside with the shelterers in semi-darkness while bombs were falling. Bert passed the test triumphantly; I at once took him on the staff and he was soon a mainstay of the magazine.
(2) James Cameron, wrote about his experiences working with Bert Hardy as a war reporter in an article published in Picture Post: 1938-50 (1970)
I feel now that I must always have cut a rather futile figure as a war-correspondent, however often I was obliged to pose as one. For one thing I was almost continually afraid. Not particularly, I think, of getting killed, which seemed to be happening to most people, but of getting maimed and invalidated and left hanging around with legs or eyes and balls shot off; I never in the least fancied that. On the Korean assignment, as on many others, I was fortunately reinforced by my old mate and colleague Bert Hardy, and one of the good things about that was that Bert was no more of a John Wayne type than I. One of the daunting things in those days was to be attached to a cameraman with heroic instincts, who would follow the sound of the cannon as I follow the sound of the clinking glass, and who would shame one into dramatic gestures of great unwisdom.
Bert was, I am sure, as alarmed as I was, but there was one signal difference in our roles: he had to take the pictures, and it was long ago established that one way you cannot take pictures is lying face-down in a hole. I spent considerable periods of time doing that. Bert, on the other hand, was plying his trade upright in the open, cursing the military exigencies that had organized this invasion in the middle of the night. One of my enduring memories of that strange occasion is of Bert Hardy on the seawall of Blue Beach, blaspheming among the impossible din, and timing his exposures to the momentary flash of the rockets. That is the difference between the reporter's trade and the cameraman's. His art can never be emotion recalled in tranquillity. Ours can - or could be: the emotion is easy; the tranquillity more elusive.
During their time in Korea Hardy and Cameron made three picture stories, the most dramatic of these being the record of General MacArthur's landing at Inchon, the port of Seoul. Seoul was not only the capital of Korea but the key centre of communications for the invading armies - North Koreans backed by Chinese - now operating far down to the south after driving the South Koreans and their allies into what Cameron called "the toehold enclave of Pusan". The Inchon landing effectively cut the legs from under the attackers, dramatically reversing the whole military situation. This was the second most powerful seaborne invasion ever launched - only that against Normandy five years earlier having been bigger - and our two men were the only British photo-journalists present.
The Inchon landing was not the only story our two men had sent back, and one of the others posed a problem. Text and photographs showed vividly how the South Koreans, with at least the connivance of their American allies, were treating their political prisoners, suspected opponents of the tyrant Synghman Rhee. Rhee himself would in due course be ditched as the insupportable head of an intolerable regime by the American protectors who had kept him in power for so long; but that was still ten years on into the future, and in the meantime Rhee and his henchmen were our gallant allies and the upholders of our Christian democratic way of life. By the 1980s we have all seen treatment of prisoners more openly murderous than that revealed in Hardy's pictures, and Cameron's accompanying article would today be accounted mild. But in the climate of that time, with British and Australian troops involved in the fighting, any criticism of South Koreans was certain to be regarded as criticism of 'our' side. Such criticism, moreover, being anti-Western, must inevitably be 'pro-Eastern', and hence - with only a small distortion of language - 'Communist propaganda', a crime of which I was already being accused by my employer.