By Alyssa Rosenberg
After I saw The Bang Bang Club, a movie about combat photography in South Africa (reviewed here), I sat down with Greg Marinovich, whose 2001 memoir of the same name is the basis for the film to talk about the risks and highs of combat photography, the impact of amateur video on photojournalism, and his next book project. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
You mentioned that you, Ken [Oosterbroek] and Kevin [Carter, both photographers with whom Marinovich worked in South Africa] all did some military service. How did that experience impact your work as photographers?
We had such different experiences. Ken did his miltiary service and then continued to do…service in the townships. I processed old pictures of his after his death. He had piles and piles of rolls of film, black and white…They were fifteen years old. He’d never gotten around to processing them. So João [Silva, the New York Times photographer injured in Afghanistan last year, who is a long-time friend of Marinovich's], myself ,and Gary Bernard took to processing these. Because they were so old, we did lots of tests. You’re a photo buff, you know how much fun this was. And some of the pictures were from his time as a conscript in the townships. He’s got pictures of his fellow conscripts pulling down UDF posters in the townships, these guys in uniforms and armored vehicles…João missed military service. I don’t know how. He was telling me that he remembers his parents going to see a general in Praetoria. He’s not sure if money changed hands, or how, but he was not conscripted…Kevin got into a lot of trouble in the military, essentially by trying to combat the racism of his fellow conscripts. And I reckon thinking I didn’t have to work within the system. I was wrong. I had two years of absolute misery and chaos and accusations of being a communist and all that kind of stuff.
But did those experiences influence the kinds of pictures you shot, the things you looked for?
[The war in which Ken saw combat] was a border war. It was a guerilla war on the border war with armed people and against armed people, whereas what was happening in the 90s in the townships, was most of it unarmed, a lot of it unarmed. The combatants were essentially unarmed, one in a hundred people would have a weapon. So I don’t think that would have had an influence. It wasn’t a war in the sense of any kind of guerilla or formal war. It was, how does one describe it? How does one describe five thousand people coming out of a hostel in a traditional zulu regiment, some of them armed with weapons, but the rest of them with sticks, and machetes and stuff? I don’t think any kind of military training would prepare you for that. Read more