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Book Review: The Bang-Bang Club

September 26, 2014

Guest blog by Breanne Hetherington

The last years of apartheid were a bloody time in South Africa’s history. Large numbers of seemingly random and gruesome murders were occurring on a daily basis. While people were lead to believe that this was due to rivalry between the African National Congress and Inkatha Freedom party, this was later proven not to be the case. Instead it was the act of a government who were desperate to cling to power.

While a number of photographers worked in South Africa during this time a small group of South African photojournalists became known as The Bang-Bang club. Ken Oosterbroek, Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva worked together to share the story of the last years of apartheid with the world. They caught horrific moments on film and won awards for their work. However by the end of apartheid Ken was killed in the field while covering a hostel battle in which Greg was also injured and Kevin had committed suicide.

The Bang-Bang Club was written by the two remaining members Greg and Joao and attempts to tell the story of these four people all with different backgrounds who came together as friends and colleagues. While they collaborated in writing the book, both felt that the story would best be told through a single voice which is Greg’s.

From a historical perspective, The Bang-Bang Club provides a fascinating insight into the complex history of white South Africa and the last years of the apartheid regime. As they did much of their work within the townships covering the Hostel War which is the central focus of the book they also explain why the townships become such flashpoints for violence.

From a photography perspective, they explore many aspects of working amongst this violence. Throughout the book, Greg and Joao explain the back story to some photos and how they managed to ‘get the shot’ amongst the chaos and heightened emotions of the moment. An example is when Greg recounts how he captured the killing of Lindsaye Tshabalala and an image known as ‘The Human Torch’ for which he won a Pulitzer in 1991. They also write about the inherent danger that was sometimes involved in taking these photos and explore their own mortality particularly when friends are killed and Greg is injured.

The ethical aspects of working in this environment are also explored……do you continue to take images or do you put the camera down and provide help to an individual? At times throughout the book they almost appear ruthless in some of their decisions but they also write about the emotional impact that this took on them.

Within the book they also try to recount some of the back story of Kevin’s Pulitzer Award winning photo of that he captured of the starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture during a famine. This story had to be explored as it is interwoven with that of the Bang-Bang Club. This image shocked the world but also brought outrage as the focus started to move from the image to questions about what happened to the child and what assistance did Kevin provide. This along with other personal issues overwhelmed Kevin and he was found dead in his car in July 1994 from an apparent suicide.

At times, The Bang-Bang Club is a confronting book as they write about some of the violence they observed but it is a fascinating read for those with an interest in history and photojournalism. Not only is it a book but there is also a film of the same name.

The_Bang_Bang_Club_movie_image_Ryan Phillippe_Taylor_Kitsch_Neel

Please Note: the opinions are of that of the author.

Associated Reading:

Kevin Carter's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph




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