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The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots From A Hidden War


Publisher:Basic Books



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About the book:

Ask any foreign editor on a national paper what part of the job gives them the most grief, and you'll almost certainly be told, "the foreign correspondents". Almost without exception, the reporters who bring back the best stories from war zones are neurotic, dysfunctional, paranoid and almost impossible to deal with. And if The Bang-Bang Club is anything to go by, you can include war photographers in the same category. The Bang-Bang Club was the name given to four South African photo-journalists, Greg Marinovich, Joao Silva, Ken Oosterbroek and Kevin Carter, who made a name for themselves going into the townships to capture first-hand the violence that erupted in South Africa between ANC supporters and the predominantly Zulu Inkhata party after the release of Nelson Mandela and prior to the first democratic elections. As a guide to the different factions and as a record of brutality, the book cannot be faulted. The British media predictably only ever reported the more sensational atrocities, and The Bang-Bang Club is a potent reminder of the ever-present violence and hatred that have dominated South African life since the early 1990s. Where the authors are on shakier ground is in the analysis of their own condition. Marinovich writes of the "addiction to adrenaline" in his pursuit of the story, and we do get to hear the downside of the booze, drugs and failed relationships that were a by-product of this addiction. But though Marinovich admits to questioning his motivation in getting up close and personal to the violence, he rather lets himself and the others off the hook with the notion that everything is justified by the importance of the story. This is as maybe, but another interesting line of enquiry might have been to ask whether the photographers' sublimated their own violent urges through their work. In other words, they let the death squads act out their feelings, while still retaining a moral high ground. The Bang-Bang Club exacted a high price of membership; Oosterbroek was killed by a stray bullet, Carter committed suicide and Marinovich was badly wounded and it's certainly not a club I would have been keen to join myself. But whatever you might think of the authors' psychiatric condition, you have to give them credit for exposing the stories that other journalists refused to touch. As The Bang-Bang Club might have said, "It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it." --John Crace

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