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How do you rationalize what you see through the lens, when do you help, why do you do what you do?

 

True story of  four (and some of their friends on the periphery) Greg Marinovich, Joao Silva, Kevin Carter, and Ken Oosterbroek and their images. Two of those four are now dead – one shot during the last days of violent uprising in 1994, the other by his own hand after a battle with drugs, the loss of his friend, and criticism over his Pulitzer prize winning photograph caught up with him.

Most people, upon hearing gunfire, would run away and hide. Conflict photojournalists have the opposite reaction: they actually look for trouble, and when they find it, get as close as possible and stand up to get the best shot. This thirst for the shot and the seeming nonchalance to the risks entailed earned Greg Marinovich, Joao Silva, Ken Oosterbroek, and Kevin Carter the moniker of the Bang-Bang Club. Oosterbroek was killed in township violence just days before South Africa’s historic panracial elections. Carter, whose picture of a Sudanese child apparently being stalked by a vulture won him a Pulitzer Prize, killed himself shortly afterwards. Another of their posse, Gary Bernard, who had held Oosterbroek as he died, also committed suicide.

The Bang-Bang Club is a memoir of a time of rivalry, comradeship, machismo, and exhilaration experienced by a band of young South African photographers as they documented their country’s transition to democracy. We forget too easily the political and ethnic violence that wracked South Africa as apartheid died a slow, spasmodic death. Supporters of the ANC and Inkatha fought bloody battles every day. The white security forces were complicit in fomenting and enabling some of the worst violence. All the while, the Bang-Bang Club took pictures. And while they did, they were faced with the moral dilemma of how far they should go in pursuit of an image, and whether there was a point at which they should stop their shooting and try to intervene.

 

THE MOVIE: The Bang Bang Club

A movie about the group, directed by Steven Silver and starring Taylor KitschRyan Phillippe and  Malin Åkerman, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010.

History

 

The name “The Bang Bang Club” was born out of an article published in the South African magazine Living. Originally named The Bang Bang Paparazzi, it was changed to “Club” because the members felt the word paparazzi misrepresented their work. The name comes from the culture itself; township residents spoke to the photographers about the “bang-bang” in reference to violence occurring within their communities, but more literally, “bang-bang” refers to the sound of gunfire and is a colloquial form of nomenclature used by conflict  photographers.

On April 18, 1994, during a firefight between the National Peacekeeping Force and African National Congress supporters in the Tokoza township, cross-fire killed Oosterbroek and seriously injured Marinovich. An inquest into Oosterbroek’s death began in 1995. The magistrate ruled that no party should be blamed for the death. In 1999,peacekeeper Brian Mkhize told Marinovich and Silva that he believed that the bullet that killed Oosterbroek had come from the National Peacekeeping Force.

In July 1994, Carter committed suicide.

On October 23, 2010, Silva stepped on a land mine while on patrol with US soldiers in KandaharAfghanistan and lost both legs below the knee.  This is the second time he’s been injured in a warzone, with his first injury being hit by shrapnel in the face.

Awards

Two members won Pulitzer Prizes for their photography. Greg Marinovich won the Pulitzer for Spot News Photography  in 1991 for his coverage of the killing of Lindsaye Tshabalala in 1990. Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer for Featured  Photography in 1994 for his 1993 photograph of a vulture that appeared to be stalking a starving child in southern Sudan.

 

It’s violent, it’s sad, but somewhere in-between is a group of adrenalin-junkie photographers who make their impact on the world. You respect them for what they do – because most of us can’t and we need to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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