By Zelmarie Goosen and Tracey Ruff
Ken Oosterbroek was just 31 when he was shot and killed by the people he was trying to photograph just days before South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.
20 years later, his friends, family and colleagues gathered at the Wits Origins Centre for the opening of an exhibition honouring the work of this extraordinary photojournalist on Wednesday night. The exhibition curates some of Oosterbroek’s work, and photographs of him practicing his craft, in a celebration of the profession, and art, of photojournalism.
The legacy of Oosterbroek
Oosterbroek is considered one of South Africa’s greatest photojournalists. He is renowned for being a part of a group of four prominent photographers who became known as the Bang-Bang Club, a group which regularly photographed life within the townships of South Africa in the early nineties. João Silva, one of four, along with Greg Maronivich and Kevin Carter, was a also guest speaker at the exhibition.
“Ken was passionate about photography beyond words,” said Silva, who lost his legs in Afghanistan while working as a war-photographer. His (Oosterbroek’s) “obsession with photography”, according to Silva, is part of what made him great. He never let up until he felt like he was one of the best photographers in South Africa.[pullquote]“Ken was everything I aspired to”.[/pullquote]
“His photos went beyond ego”, said a clearly-passionate Silva. “Ken was everything I aspired to”.
Oosterbroek killed while on assignment for The Star newspaper in Thokoza, a township east of Johannesburg, just days before the 1994 elections.
An emotional exhibition
Deputy Editor of The Star and master of ceremonies, Kevin Ritchie, felt witnessing Oosterbroek’s work and meeting world-class photographers at the exhibition was “a bucket list tick”.
“It really is a goose-bump moment for us [to be here celebrating] the legends of our newspaper” said Ritchie.
The Star editor, Makhudu Sefara, said the exhibition is a small way to say thank you to people like Oosterbroek and others who took a “mammoth risk” in the name of photojournalism.
“We are … acutely aware that the work on display today represents a fraction of the body of work” produced by Oosterbroek, Alf Khumalo (Oosterbroek’s mentor), and many others.
Sefara emphasised the power of the photograph and what photojournalism has done in bringing about transformation and telling the South African story.
“As we look into the future, we need to look into what we are doing. We need to look at the industry now and…have a moment of reflection and ask ourselves whether we’re stepping up” to the “ultimate sacrifices” made by people like Oosterbroek.