Essay Club Part Two

Above: In the first of a two-part series on the Bang Bang Club, Joao Silva discusses his photography in South Africa in the 1990s. Tomorrow we will bring you the photography of another member of the informal club — Greg Marinovich.


Correction appended | Though legendary in photojournalism circles, the Bang Bang Club never formally existed. It was really more of a bond among four young photographers — Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek and Joao Silva — united by their ideals, their photography and the historical events unfolding in South Africa in the 1990s.

Their bond was formed in the field, where injustice and death lurked. It was a camaraderie that came from the constant experience of mortal danger — Mr. Oosterbroek was killed during a gun battle in April 1994. They also shared a mutual understanding of how important it was to document the tumultuous events unfolding in front of them as apartheid gave way and South Africans struggled to form a new government. It was a battle most brutally waged in townships populated mainly by poor blacks.

“Amazing how often these guys were shooting pictures of people committing murder, burning people alive,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times. The Times’s bureau chief in Johannesburg from 1992 until 1995, he often worked with Mr. Marinovich.

Mr. Marinovich was fairly new to photojournalism in 1991 when he first photographed the killing of a man. “I had been too scared to say anything to try to stop it,” he said, “and so that really disturbed me about myself and who I thought I was at the moment.”

A month later Mr. Marinovich came across a very similar situation. But this time he did try to intervene, with no success. The series of photographs showed supporters of South Africa’s African National Congress burning alive a man they believed to be a Zulu spy. Mr. Marinovich was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for those pictures the following year.

The group routinely covered situations where it “was not a healthy place to be a witness,” as Mr. Keller put it.

That is the core of what the Bang Bang Club is remembered for: bearing witness. Mr. Carter’s picture of a starving Sudanese girl with a vulture nearby, first published in The Times, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994.

When an article about some of the photographers was published under the title “The Bang Bang Paparazzi,” the group was offended. “The kind of journalism, the photography we do — it’s real lives; you know, people living, people dying,” Mr. Silva said. In a later article, the writer renamed the group the Bang Bang Club. Then, after Mr. Oosterbroek’s death and Mr. Carter’s suicide in July 1994, Mr. Silva and Mr. Marinovich wrote a book, “The Bang Bang Club: Snapshots From a Hidden War” (2000).

The book contains scenes familiar to South Africans like Steven Silver, a director who is making it into a movie. He remembers the fearless photographers. “Bullets would start to fly and everyone would scramble and you would see these guys jump into the middle of it and wade right into the center of it,” Mr. Silver recalled.

Earlier this year, Mr. Silver, Mr. Silva (being played by Neels Van Jaarsveld) and Mr. Marinovich (being played by Ryan Phillippe) were once again on common ground with others who survived the conflict. During filming, people rushed out of their homes with magazines showing Mr. Marinovich’s photograph of the burning man. In some scenes, residents of the townships played themselves, as extras.

Everyone involved helped make the film as authentic as possible, which was Mr. Silver’s key concern. Mr. Marinovich and Mr. Silva were brought on as consultants to ensure that the details were accurate. “It was a lot more difficult than they had anticipated,” he said.

“It wasn’t that long ago; the history is still very much alive — in the people of the townships as much as in Greg and Joao.”

Mr. Marinovich and Mr. Silva are writing an epilogue to their book to be released with the movie.

Correction

An earlier version of this post conflated two events in Mr. Marinovich’s career, creating the impression that he had won a Pulitzer Prize for photographs of a killing he had been too scared to try to stop. The killing in which he felt powerless to intervene had in fact occurred a month earlier. Mr. Marinovich did try, without success, to thwart the killing for which he later won a Pulitzer.

Earlier we discussed what to avoid when writing your "Why This College" college application essays. Today, let's get positive and talk about what should be in there by using some examples.

DO: Think of this as a "Why we are perfect for each other" essay.
Imagine you're on a date and the person sitting across from you leans in to ask, "So, why do you like me?" You can't just say, "Because you're hot." You're gonna need to be a little more specific. How do you do this? Here’s how:

DO: Fold a piece of paper in half to create two columns, then at the top label one "What I want" and the other "What they have."
As you're researching the school, bullet-point 10-15 specific, concrete reasons why you and the school are a great match for one another.

So, for example, if the school has a music and medicine program, put that in the right column. Next to it, in the left column, say why that's the perfect program for you. Or maybe you're interested in studying Chinese? Put that it in the left column and then look for something related to learning Chinese that the school offers--either academically or extracurricularly (an actual word but don't use it in your essay)--and put that it in the right column. How does this help? It takes your essay from:

"Michigan's well-known legacy, its fantastic football team and spectacular location in Ann Arbor are just a few reasons why I believe UM is the place for me." #supergeneric

to...

"I look forward to Academic Argumentation (225) and Professional Writing (229), as I believe these courses will provide me with a firm basis in journalistic writing technique and improve my abilities to write analytically and develop well-supported arguments. Furthermore, the Professional Writing course will teach me how to write in a concise, straightforward style, a skill vital to a journalist." #likeaboss 

See what he's done there in this Why This College example?

DO: Mention specific classes, professors, clubs and activities that you will actually be excited about being a part of.
And don't BS it. Imagine yourself on campus as a freshman. What are you doing? What conversations are you having? How are you involved? I want to say "You can't get too specific," although I'm sure you could if you try... On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being "I want to be involved in all the campus activities!” and 10 being "There was a particular student's dorm window I looked in during the campus walking tour and I saw her reading a Microecon book and drinking a Strawberries Wild from Jamba Juice--my favorite--and I thought--" (Slow down, creeper. And how did you know what flavor it was??) Anyway, keep it at like a 7 or an 8. And make sure all your details are relevant and appropriate. Here's a good gauge to know what’s relevant and appropriate. Ask:

  • Am I showing that I've done my research?
  • Am I demonstrating my intelligence?
  • Am I connecting what they have to with what I have?

If you’re doing all three, keep it in. If you’re not doing any of these, consider cutting. And I know I said that third thing already, but it's worth repeating: often students only say why the school is awesome. But remember that this essay is not about why the school is awesome. The school knows it’s awesome; the admissions readers spend a lot of their time telling students like you why it's awesome.

Finally...

DO: Remember this is another chance to show a few more of your skills/talents/interests/passions.
Make a list of 10 things you definitely want the school to know about you. Ask yourself: are all these values/qualities in my main essay or another supplement? If not, the "Why This School" may be a place to include a few more details about who you are. But remember: connect it to some awesome opportunity/program/offering at or near the school.

Okay, I said I was finished but here's one more: If the school doesn't have a particular program/opportunity you're looking for, don't freak out. Look at this not as a dead end, but as an opportunity.

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