The phrase ‘Bang-Bang’ here means the sound of gunfire, largely in reference to the factional wars and unrest in SA during those days. Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek and Joao Silva were conflict photographers who extensively covered the attacks between African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) factions, at a time (1990-94) when Nelson Mandela was released from jail and South Africa was racing towards its historic ’94 elections, where citizens of all races were allowed to participate for the first time.
Kevin Carter needs no introduction. One of the most ‘touching’ photographs of the modern history was clicked by the great photojournalist. His photograph ‘The Vulture and the little girl’ in which there is a kid who collapses in the foreground, with a vulture eyeing from nearby, won him the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. The heart-wrenching photograph also won him the coveted ‘Picture of the Year’ by The American Magazine.
Depicting the horrific sights of the 1993 famine in Sudan, the photo first appeared on The New York Times on March 26, 1993. The girl (later identified to be a boy) in the image, was trying to reach a United Nations Feeding Center about half-a-mile away from her in Ayod, Sudan. The child was later reported to have survived the incident. But it was Carter who could not get over the ‘horror’ of the incident. Kevin committed suicide within a few months of taking the photograph, when he was just 33.
Born in 1962, Greg worked with Johannesburg-based newspaper as a photographer. He was an ‘autodidact’ in the field of journalism and was a pretty good one as well. He developed his interest for Photography and Journalism during his stint with a hiking and safari company in SA, back in those days. In 2000, he co-authored the book The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War, which in detail explained the distress and the shocking tales of South Africa, on its road to transition from apartheid.
Oosterbroek was the Photo Editor of The Star in Johannesburg, which was South Africa’s biggest daily broadsheet. Life wasn’t easy for Ken as well, despite having some shell-shocking photographs of the ‘violence’ during his military service in Southern Angola with him, initially he found it hard to find a job in any of the newspapers of those times.
He received his first formal recognition for his work in 1989, when he won the prestigious ‘Ilford Award’ (South African Press Photographer of the Year award). And in the glory of that day, he could write “I am a Photographer. Set me free.”In a tragic turn of events, Oosterbroek was shot and killed by peacekeepers in Thokoza Township in South Africa on April 18, 1984. He, along with other photographers, was covering the deadly clash between peacekeepers and the African National Congress when the misery struck.
Portuguese born Silva (staff photographer, NYT-Africa), is widely regarded as the last member of the ‘Bang-Bang Club’. On a devastating day in 2010, the iconic war photographer stepped on a landmine in Kandahar, Afghanistan, losing both legs. He was on a patrol with the US soldiers when the incident happened.Early in his childhood, Silva got inspired by one of his friends and clearly knew that ‘photography’ was going to be his thing in life. Silva worked along with Kevin Carter in their stint in Sudan, covering the gruesome famines of 1993.
In 2010, The Bang Bang Club, a film of the same name, was written and directed by Steven Silver, on the lives of these photographers and their daring experiences while on duty in SA. In the biographical drama, Ryan Phillippe, Taylor Kitsch, Frank Rautenbach and Neels Van Jaarsveld played the roles of Greg Marinovich, Kevin Carter, Ken Oosterbroek and Joao Silva respectively. Rather a tribute to the bunch of incredible photojournalists!
So, in the toughest of times, these photojournalists were out there with their cameras, capturing bloodshed and mayhem, as South Africa went on to form its government. Putting their lives in danger, they brought to the world ghastly images of the war-stricken land which are deep scars on human history. It’s probably the connect and the passion for their “job” that makes them the ‘Bang-Bang’ club!