One of the more iconic images to come out of Afghanistan this year is not your average war photograph. It shows a small doll's foot sticking out of an American private's vest. A friend gave it to him after surviving a combat tour in Iraq — attributing survival to the "lucky foot."
It is the last photograph Joao Silva took in October, just before losing both of his legs in a catastrophic landmine explosion. Silva, an award-winning New York Times photographer, is now recovering in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Meanwhile, to help defray the costs of his medical treatment, his friends recently organized an auction in Johannesburg of some of his most famous photographs.
Greg Marinovich, Silva's long-time friend and fellow photographer, has been the main force behind the cause to support Silva. He was also there in southern Afghanistan at the time of the explosion, and recently visited Silva in the hospital.
"You know, it's operation after operation," Marinovich says, "But spiritually he's strong." It's most likely that spiritual strength that earned Silva, along with Marinovich and a few others, their nickname: "The Bang Bang Club," a handful of photographers who risked their lives working during the violent days of South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle — and after.
"The photographs from the '90s are really an important part of South Africa's history," Pete Beckwell says, a bidder at the Johannesburg auction. "Some of them are beautiful images — and they capture some of the horror of that time." For people like Beckwell, Silva's photographs are a reminder of where South Africans came from — and where they are today. Despite the risks involved, that's why Silva and Marinovich have continued their conflict coverage.
Once apartheid ended, the photographers found "Bang Bang" far afield, Marinovich says, but still in the throes of conflict. Yuglosavia, Baghdad, Afghanistan — pretty much any place of unrest. Marinovich himself was once hit by a mortar, although he shows no signs of injury.
That will not be the case with Silva. But photography, the very thing that led to his injury, just might also be what saves him.