After Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 after spending almost three decades behind bars as a political activist, several photographers rose to fame as South Africa made its bumpy journey to its first democratic elections.
These conflict photographers captured a new South Africa struggling to free itself from the shackles of apartheid, roving the townships as violence and confrontation erupted between fired-up locals and authorities in uncertain political times. Four photographers, in particular, became well-known for their vivid portrayal of the brutality and beauty of the birth of the Rainbow Nation. They are Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbrook and Joao Silva.
Oosterbrook worked for The Star newspaper as a photojournalist, and would later become its chief photographer. He was nominated and won numerous local and international awards. In April 1994, mere days before the first democratic South African elections, he died in a clash between peacekeepers and ANC demonstrators in the township of Thokoza. It is alleged that he was killed by friendly fire, but a 15-month inquest declared that neither side could be found responsible, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. H was only 31 years old at the time of his death.
Internationally acclaimed photojournalist Kevin Carter at first worked as a weekend sports photographer, before moving onto the Johannesburg Star where he became the first person to capture a necklacing (public execution) on film in the 1980s. In 1993, on a trip to Sudan, he took the infamous photograph of a vulture poised to attack a starving toddler – an image that would earn him harsh criticism, but ultimately the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1994. Later that year, and shortly after the death of Oosterbrook he would take his own life; 33-year-old Carter’s suicide note simply said that the burden of debt and the horror of the atrocities he’d witnessed had driven him to it.
Marinovich worked side-by-side with Oosterbrook, Carter and Silva in the turbulent townships early 90s, where few photographers feared to tread. He was with Oosterbrook that fateful day in Thokoza when he was shot, and in 1991 was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photographer for his images of members of the ANC murdering a man they assumed was an Inkatha spy, as well as numerous other awards in his 18 years as a conflict photographer and documentary maker. You can follow his work at http://www.gregmarinovich.com/BLOG/
Silva has photographed across the world, starting his career at the Alberton Record, before moving onto The Star, and later the Associated Press and the New York Times. He’s won numerous awards, including the World Press Photo. In October 2010 he stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan while on patrol with American soldiers and lost both legs below the knee. It is said that even after the blast, 44-year-old Silva kept taking photographs while he was being treated by paramedics. Journalists and fans around the world are raising money to help pay his medical bills. You can view his online portfolio at www.joaosilva.co.za.
The stories of these four photographers have captured the imagination of audiences and readers across the world. In 2000, The Bang Bang Club hit the shelves, a book published by Marinovich and Silva that documents South Africa’s journey to democracy. In 2006, a documentary titled The Life of Kevin Carter: a Casualty of the Bang Bang Club was nominated for an Academy Award. In 2010, a movie about the Bang Bang Club premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to critical acclaim.