Inchon Landings by Bert Hardy, 1951

In 1950, editor of Picture Post Tom Hopkinson sent reporter James Cameron and photographer Bert Hardy to cover the Korean War. Hardy’s photos would result in Hopkinson losing his job for a story documenting the appalling treatment of prisoners by the South Korean Government, an ally of the Western Powers and Hardy’s Korean War photography being banned in Britain during the duration of the war.

Cameron and Hardy accompained U.S. Marines in the first wave of the amphibious landings at Inchon on 15th September 1950 during the Korean War. The landigns were the most powerful sea-borne invasion since D-Day and they were the only British journalists present.

James Cameron remembers:

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 organised 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.

Working with a Contax II 35mm, Hardy was the only photographer in the first wave to obtain any photos in the low light conditions. He had to use speeds as low as 1/25 of a second at f1.4. The American press were working with 5×4 Speed Graphics, with a widest aperture of f4.5, and did not get good photos as they did not work well in the low light.

In London, Tom Hopkinson recalled, “As I turned over Hardy’s prints when they first came out of the darkroom, I knew that I had never had a better picture story in my hands.” Picture Post would publish the Inchon Landings on 7 October 1950, the images winning Bert another Encyclopaedia Britannica award.

The printing was delayed because of the photos Hardy took after the landings which depicted prisoners of war in Pusan (then the only Korean city held by U.N. Forces) in squalor, accompanied by Cameron’s story harshly critical of the Allies, the UN and the Red Cross for giving the South Korean dictatorship a free rein. Picture Post’s soon-to-be ennobled owner objected, and Hopkinson insisted.

After a bitter debate, Hopkinson was sacked. And the magazine went ahead with the Korea story which only contained the Inchon Landings. It touted Gen. MacArthur and covered nine pages. One caustic headline was allowed to be sneaked through: “This is what happens to humanity when it is liberated twice within three months.” After Hopkinson, Post was led by a revolving door of incompetent editors until it finally closed shop in 1957.

Unpublished Korean War photos of Bert Hardy from Pusan here

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