Photography Within Conflict

While a film and book exist to discuss the particulars of The Bang Bang Club, we want to take a look at what led to these works being created. The members of The Bang Bang Club were four photographers famous for capturing conflict in Africa, namely João Silva, Greg Marinovich, Kevin Carter and Ken Oosterbroek. During apartheid, these four photographers were active within the South African townships, documenting the country’s transition to democracy.

While this topic has a somewhat positive connotation, the group focused on documenting the violence and injustice that became synonymous with that time. The Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, IFP and ANC political parties were some of the groups involved in the protests and violence.

How Did They Become The Bang Bang Club?

The term was brought to life after a South African magazine referred to the group as The Bang Bang Paparazzi, which was later changed to The Bang Bang Club to be more fitting of their work. When working in the townships, the people often spoke to the groups about the “bang-bang” sounds associated with gunshots and violence. “Bang bang” is also a term used by conflict photographers.

The Tragic Ending Of The Club

The danger associated with their work eventually claimed the life of Ken Oosterbroek in 1994 following a firefight between the National Peacekeeping Force and ANC supporters. Greg Marinovich was also seriously injured as a result of this event. A court ruling later found that none of the parties was to blame for the photographer’s death.

In the same year, Kevin Carter committed suicide.

Fast forward to 2010, and João Silva loses both legs after stepping on a landmine while patrolling in Kandahar in Afghanistan with US Soldiers.

Paving The Way Forward

João Silva and Greg Marinovich published a book in 2000 titled The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War. This tell-all book shared their experiences and set out to remove the “club” stereotype associated with the four photographers. They were not a club, nor were they the only journalists covering the apartheid era or the country’s transition to democracy. What did, however, link the four photographers was their sense of morality associated with what they do. Where do you draw the line and stop being a photographer?

This book was later adapted to film and was shot in the Thokoza township by South African documentary film-maker Steven Silver. Greg Marinovich was a consultant during production and had Ryan Phillippe portray him in the film.

A documentary was also created about the club entitled The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club. This film received a nomination for an Academy Award in 2006.

The Wrath Of Apartheid Continues To Live On

While the country grapples with a post-apartheid world, the effects of this time continue to live on in film and print, in addition to leaving vivid images and memories with those who experienced it first-hand.

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