Joao Silva, The Bang Bang Club and Jehad Nga—Part Two

The New York Times “Week in Review” in the Sunday edition is print heavy—mostly highlighting major newsworthy stories of the past week, editorials and opinion pieces, including that of Frank Rich. However, the Dec. 26 issue had 10 of its 16 pages devoted solely to photographs—“The Year in Pictures.” The front page header read, “Wars, disaster and sweet victories: the power of the photojournalist in a world overflowing with images.” The photograph that occupied the full front page is by Andrees Latif.

This much space is a singular recognition by America’s “newspaper of record” of the increasing presence and power of the men and women scattered around the world who with their cameras “bear witness” to the full spectrum of the human drama. One of this fraternity’s most renowned and beloved members is Joao Silva, a member of the so-called “Bang Bang Club” of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid in the 90s.

Last fall, Silva was on assignment in Afghanistan with the Fourth Infantry Division near the town of Arghandab outside of Kandahar. The area had been cleared of land mines. But one IED, made largely from plastic, had escaped detection. When it exploded on October 23, it devastated his lower body. Silva had followed several soldiers behind a stone wall. Times correspondent Carlotta Gaul and Sgt. Eric Elizey were outside the wall when the call came for the medic, followed by one for a med-evac. "Give me a name... Give me a name," yelled Elizey. A voice came back through the smoke on the other side of the wall, "It's the photographer." Both of Silvas's legs were amputated; Joao Silva is currently recovering at Walter Reed Hospital. Dexter Filkins filed a report for the NY Times:

New York Times.com—“Time Photographer Wounded by an Afghan Mine” article link

In late December his friend and fellow photojournalist, Michael Kamber, reported on Silva’s background and rise to the top of his profession.

New York Times.com—Week in Review article link

After lamenting the decline of the role of photojournalism in an age of Twitter feeds and cell phone photos, Kamber writes,

Still, the frustrations of photojournalists today are outweighed by many rewards. We venture into remote corners of the world to watch incredible dramas. We are often the sole objective witnesses. We find that much history would happen in a vacuum, save for our cameras.

Although many of the great weekly magazines such as Life are gone, newsworthy images are even more present because of the internet--- and their artistic quality has never been greater. The men and women who may be the "sole objective witnesses" of  many world events--- are our eyes into the human drama; they also bear the brunt of its dangers.

A story by David W. Dunlap from Nov. 29 documents the final dozen images made by Silva.

New York Times.com—Lens blog link

It includes a brief video clip of Silva and a link for contributions to his rehabilitation.

I was working on a film in Alaska when I heard about Silva’s injury from Jehad Nga, a fellow photojournalist who was on special assignment with our production. I wrote about Jehad and Silva in a November blog:

John’s Bailiwick—“Joao Silva, The Bang Bang Club and Jehad Nga” link

Jehad went with our production’s second unit under Peter Collister, ASC to photograph scenes in the village of Barrow. Nga made some personal photos that will be the subject of a blog piece here in the near future. He has a home in Kenya and works extensively in East Africa for the NY Times. A photo of his is included in the “Week in Review” year-end edition. It is of Somali pirates who have prowled the shipping lanes off the Horn of Africa.

The NY Times website for the “2010 Year in Pictures” is a month-by-month diary of the major events that demanded our attention, with a link to accompanying news stories. Here is a group of the year’s best photographs from the NY Times, the first of which is by Joao Silva. It shows Iraqi soldiers in line to vote for their Parliament in early March:

In Afghanistan, most of the real voting is done at the local level, not in Kabul. Here, Hajii Abdul Zahir deliberates with village elders.

In downtown Port-au Prince a man carries a coffin a few days after the Haiti earthquake.

Three days after the 7.0 magnitude temblor, a woman walks through the devastation of Port-au-Prince.

A three-day memorial service and prayer vigil for the victims of the earthquake began on February 12.

On March 11, a wounded Afghan policeman is med-evaced by helicopter after being ambushed by the Taliban.

In Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, police are huddled for protection after protestors tried to seize a government building.

During Holy Week in Seville, Spain, a group of women wear traditional mantilla, posed for a photo against a walled wedge of sunlight.

The 1000 members of the graduating class of West Point Academy listen to President Obama deliver the commencement speech. The crossed legs of the woman in the front row contrast with those of her white-trousered classmates.

The apocalyptic orange of a wildfire outside of Moscow near the village of Golovanova vibrates against the night vision green of a helicopter rescue of Pakistani flood refugees being transported to safer ground at Shadad Kot.

In an image that looks out of the film All the President’s Men, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad enters the United Nations in New York City on September 21. The dramatic lighting seems to portend his dark agenda.

Conversely, in the full flat light of a Tennessee waiting room, a sextet of Republican conservatives wait for Michael Steele. Their agenda is clear, as they wait for their moment, seated beneath a photo of Ronald Reagan.

It may look like a 4th of July display run amok, but Italian police are trying to avoid injury from an attack by protesters who are opposed to the location of a new city dump.

An American soldier searches a suspected Taliban fighter. The dead man in the wheelbarrow had planted IEDs; he was killed in a retaliatory missile strike. The long lens compression and soft focus horizon give it an almost surreal, cinematic note.

A stark contrast to the near monochrome bleached look of the photo above is the next photo, an intense, edged graphic in tiered grey, black and blue. The human figures echo the descending line of the stone steps. It was shot during a formal photo op for newly elected members of the House of Representatives--- in front of the Capitol. Is this skewed assembly possibly a metaphor for what we can expect from the next Congress?

Is a photo of Nobel Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from Nov. 13 also a symbol? At last free from house arrest by the military junta, she greets well wishers at the gate of her compound, soft human flesh reaching out against blood red steel spikes.

In northwestern Mexico, soldiers incinerate bundles of confiscated marijuana, the billowing smoke a mere puff in the fog of war against drug lords.

Illegals from El Salvador appear already jailed--- in a bus on their way to deportation near Mesa, Arizona.

This is not a Third World riot but a window shattering demonstration in London on November 10. It is an attack on Conservative Party offices, a protest against an increase in student tuition fees.

Seeing such a generous group of photographs at one time affords a clear demonstration of the diversity of the emotional power of daily photojournalism. These news photos are not mere documents of record. They embody the strong personal and aesthetic perspective that comes out of the artistic inclinations of the men and women who create them—an accomplishment that is all the more remarkable as these images are almost always made under conditions of duress, even of danger to life. Those of us who work in the totally controlled world of fiction images can only salute with greatest deference what these artists do—and they do it every day.

A larger selection (nearly 100 images) of the year’s great photojournalism can be seen here:

New York Times.com—2010 Year in Pictures slideshow link

Be certain to click “full screen” below the NY Times banner on upper left of the screen.

Next week: The last roll of Kodachrome is developed at Dwayne's Photo: a look at Kodachrome's "American Story" and some anxious thoughts on what may lie ahead for a great American company.

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