Michael Barry was born in 1954 in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape).
After receiving his schooling in Port Elizabeth, Barry worked as a computer operator.
In 1976, he moved to Cape Town, Western Province, to work as a sailor a for merchant shipping company, Safmarine. In 1978, Barry enrolled as a student at the Michaelis School of Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town (UCT) where he studied until 1981. In 1985, he completed his Higher Diploma in Education at UCT.
While studying at Michaelis, Barry worked part time as shelter supervisor at the Haven Night Shelter in the dock area of Cape Town for a year. During the 1980s, Barry continued to pursue his passion for painting and photography and taught art in a state high school in Port Elizabeth. Barry was a member of Vukalisa (isiXhosa for enlighten) an artists’ collective that worked in communities to encourage cultural activities. His photographs were included in numerous group shows in the Cape Peninsula including an exhibition organised by The South African National Gallery in 1981 entitled “Young South African Photographers.” Barry’s photographic essay published in South Africa: The Cordoned Heart in 1986 includes some of the work he had done while working at the Haven Night Shelter in Cape Town. These images speak to the conditions of the lives of homeless people living in and around the city.
Badsha, O. (ed). (1986)South Africa: The Cordoned Heart, Essays by Twenty South African Photographers. Cape Town: Gallery Press