The Bang Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War

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Overview

The Bang-Bang Club is the story of four young photographers who covered the last years of apartheid, taking many of the most memorable photographs of the period. In this stunning new book, the group's two surviving members recount their political, emotional, and personal journeys through these violent years as South Africa moved toward democracy. Along the way we accompany them on free-lance assignments to other war-torn regions, including the former Yugoslavia and the Sudan, where one member of the group shoots what has become a world-famous photograph of a starving child stalked by a vulture.The boldness that earned the group its nickname, that prompted them to rush headlong into dangerous situations in pursuit of an image, forces them to consider difficult questions that lie at the heart of their work: When does their sense of humanity overwhelm their ambition and professional duties? When do they put aside their cameras and their impartiality and get involved? These are the moral dilemmas that the Bang-Bang Club grappled with on a daily basis.

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Editorial Reviews

Johanna McGeary
If you have ever wondered why some men need to live on the edge, this grippingly candid trip into 'the dead zones' of war journalism will thrill, shock and finally move you.
— Johanna McGeary, chief foreign correspondent for Time
Johanna McGeary
If you have ever wondered why some men need to live on the edge, this grippingly candid trip into the 'dead zones' of war journalism will thrill, shock and finally move you.
Memphis Flyer
Balancing adventure-seeking bravado, professional competition, genuine friendship, and the stark fear of war coverage, the authors vividly describe a bloody revolution against white rule and how each came to terms with his own less-than-passive role in the violence.
Philadelphia City Paper
The Bang-Bang Club succeeds where other, more self-important histories of the conflict in South Africa have failed.
Susan Daley
Often we are so mesmerized by what a camera sees, that we do not think about the person framing the shot. Here is a fascinating look at how photo-journalism is done and the heavy toll it took on four young men covering South Africa's bloody struggle for freedom. To read this book is to feel the early morning wake up calls, the menace of a crowd getting ready to kill, the shame that can go with taking a prize-wining photograph of human misery. Parts of it will haunt you.
— Suzanne Daley, former Johannesburg Bureau Chief for The New York Times
Susie Linfield
The Bang-Bang Club is both politically informative and emotionally forthright-as, I suspect, are its authors, who look at themselves and their work unsparingly.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Four white South African photographers (Marinovich, Silva, Kevin Carter and Greg Oosterbroek) decide to chronicle the years of violence--ostensibly "black on black" violence but actually apartheid-sanctioned violence aimed at destabilizing the ANC--that marked the time from Nelson Mandela's release from prison to the first nonracial elections in their land. Before those years passed, two of them would be dead (one by his own hand), and their lives would be forever changed (" `I was appalled at what they were doing. I was appalled at what I was doing' "). Heard and seen almost entirely through the voice and eyes of Marinovich, this memoir is about, in the words of Archbishop Tutu, the "remarkably cool, no, even cold-blooded" photographers who negotiated a war zone for journalistic gain and not the war itself. Although compelling, their story suffers from a lack of hard-core introspection. Even if the reader can understand the photographers' almost aloof response to the violence and death around them as they seek out bloodbaths and bodies, their manifest coldness (evidenced by both their words and their photographs) remains undeniably disturbing. For example, in one telling scene, after taking pictures of a young man who was killed and burned, Silva takes his friends to see the scene. While they look at the still-smoldering body, a woman comes out from a house nearby and throws a blanket over the body and looks at them in disgust. And when Marinovich and Oosterbroek are injured in a shoot-out, Oosterbroek fatally, their description of the events only accentuates their dispassionate point of view ("the ethic of getting the picture first, then dealing with the rest later"). B&w photos. Radio satellite tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This powerful account intertwines the personal and professional lives of four journalists, known as the Bang Bang Club, who helped bring the struggle for the end of apartheid in South Africa and other conflicts into the worldview. Two members of the "club" survived to tell their story here, while the other two tragically died: Greg Oosterbroek was fatally shot while covering a firefight, and Kevin Carter, who won a Pulitzer for his photograph of a vulture stalking a starving child in the Sudan, committed suicide. Since then, many have questioned the ethics of taking such a picture, and Carter's own responses changed over time. In this highly readable account, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Marinovich, who narrates the stories, and Silva, whose voice is represented in the third person, openly discuss this and other topics concerning the morality of journalism. The book's 40 photographs offer stark illustrations of the issues, especially the question of the responsibility of the journalist to intervene in order to help rather than merely to profit. An introduction by Desmond Tutu frames the book, putting it in the context of South African history. Libraries with collections on journalism or South Africa should seriously consider purchasing this engaging work, which raises many important questions.--Judy Solberg, George Washington Univ. Lib., Washington, DC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Booknews
Recounts the political, emotional, and personal concerns of the "bang-bang club": four photographers (Marinovich, Silva, Carter, Oosterbroek) who primarily covered South Africa in the last years of apartheid, but also war zones like the former Yugoslavia and the Sudan. In 1994, days after one of the four, Kevin Carter, won the Pulitzer Prize, Marinovich and Oosterbroek were shot while covering a firefight outside Johannesburg. Silva describes how he was torn between helping his comrades and shooting pictures of them.... And then, three months after the shooting, Carter committed suicide. Marinovich and Silva are the only survivors. Includes 40 b&w photographs, a glossary, and an apartheid timeline. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465044139
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/2001
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Greg Marinovich is a documentary filmmaker, photographer, and writer who has won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. A native of South Africa, he lives in Johannesburg.Joao Silva is a free-lance photographer whose honors include South African Press Photographer of the Year for 1992. Born in Lisbon, Portugal, he now lives in Johannesburg. Greg Marinovich is a documentary filmmaker, photographer, and writer who has won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. A native of South Africa, he lives in Johannesburg.Joao Silva is a free-lance photographer whose honors include South African Press Photographer of the Year for 1992. Born in Lisbon, Portugal, he now lives in Johannesburg.

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Read an Excerpt

The Wall

If only I could reach
The homestead of Death's mother
Oh, my daughter
I would make a long grass torch...
I would destroy everything utterly utterly...
       Traditional Acholi funeral song

'Not a picture,' I muttered as I looked through my camera viewfinder at the soldier firing methodically into the hostel. I turned back towards the ling of terrified, unwilling and poorly-trained soldiers taking cover alongside the wall next to me. Their eyes darted back and forth under the rims of their steel helmets. I wanted to capture that fear. The next minute, a blow struck me -- massive, hammer-like -- in the chest. I missed a sub-moment, a beat from my life, and then I found myself on the ground, entangled in the legs of the other photographers working beside me. Pain irradiated from my left breast and spread throughout my torso. It went far beyond the point I imagined pain ended. 'Fuck! I'm hit, I'm hit! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!'

As automatic fire continued to erupt from along the wall, Joao and Jim desperately dragged me by my camera vest closer to the wall, seeking shelter next to the soldiers and out of their line of fire. Then an anguished voice broke through the cacophony: 'Ken O is hit!' I struggled to turn my head through the tangled cameras and straps around my neck. A few yards to the right, I could see a pair of long skinny legs that were unmistakably Ken's protruding from the weeks flourishing against the concrete wall. They were motionless and at an improbable angle to each other. Jim ran over to where Gary was clutching Ken, trying to find a sign of life. The sporadic crack and rattle of high-velocity automatic gunfire reverberated through the air around the huddle of journalists and solider trying to flatten themselves against the wall.

Blood seeped from the gaping hole in my T-shirt. I clamped my hand over the hold to stop the bleeding. I imagined the exit wound of the bullet as a deadly, gaping hole in my back. 'Look for an exit wound,' I said to Joao. He ignored me. 'You'll be OK,' he said. I reasoned that it must be bad if he didn't want to look, and as though this was all happening in some feeble movie, I asked him to give a message to my girlfriend. 'Tell Heidi I'm sorry...that I love her,' I said. 'Tell her yourself,' he snapped back.

Suddenly a sensation of utter calm washed over me. This was it. I had paid my dues. I had atoned for the dozens of close calls that always left someone else injured or dead, while I emerged from the scenes of mayhem unscathed, pictures in hand, having committed the crime of being the lucky voyeur.

Jim returned, crouching under the gunfire and murmured softly in my ear. 'Ken's gone, but you'll be OK,' Joao heard and stood up to rush over to Ken, but other were already helping him. He lifted his camera. 'Ken will want to see these later,' he told himself. He was annoyed that Ken's hair was in his face, ruining the picture. Joao took pictures of us both -- two of his closest friends -- me sprawled on the cracked concrete clutching my chest; Ken being clumsily manhandled into the back of an armoured vehicle by Gary and a soldier, his head lolling freely like that of a rag doll and his cameras dangling uselessly from his neck. Then it was my turn to be loaded into the armoured car; Jim had my shoulders and Joao my legs, but I am large, and Heidi's pampering had added more kilos. 'You're too fat, man!' Joao joked. 'I can walk,' I protested, trying to laugh, but strangely indignant. I wanted to remind them of the weight of the cameras.

After four long years of observing the violence, the bullets had finally caught up with us. The bang-bang had been good to us, until now.

Earlier that morning we had been working the back streets and alleys of Thokoza township's devastated no-man's-land that we -- Ken Oosterbroek, Kevin Carter, Joao and I -- had become so familiar with over the years of chasing confrontations between police, soldiers, modern-day Zulu warriors and Kalashnikov-toting youngsters as apartheid came to its bloody end.

Kevin was not with us when the shooting happened. He had left Thokoza to talk to a local journalist about the Pulitzer Prize he had won for his shocking picture of a starving child being stalked by a vulture in the Sudan. He had been in two minds about leaving. Joao had advised him to stay, that despite there being a lull, things were sure to cook again. But Kevin was enjoying his new-found status as a celebrity and went anyway.

Over a steak lunch in Johannesburg, Kevin recounted his many narrow escapes. After dessert, he told the journalist that there had been a lot of bang-bang that morning in Thokoza, and that he had to return. While driving back to the township, some 16 kilometres from Johannesburg, he heard on a news report on the radio that Ken and I had been shot, and that Ken was dead. He raced toward the local hospital we had been taken to. Kevin hardly ever wore body armour, none of us did, and Joao flatly refused to. But at the entrance to the township, before reaching the hospital, Kevin dragged his bullet-proof vest over his head. All at once, he felt fear.

The boys were no longer untouchable, and, before the bloodstains faded from the concrete beside the wall, another one of would be dead.

Excerpted by permission of Basic Books. Copyright © 2000 by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva.

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