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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

When it comes to covering conflicts, war photographers get closer to the danger than anyone else. And last October, New York Times photography Joao Silva was embedded with American troops in Kandahar when he stepped on a mine and was terribly wounded. He's at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington now. But to raise money for years more of treatment, Silva's friends back home in Johannesburg organized an auction of his most famous photos.

NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault was there.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The buzz in this room is about the photographs -several dozen stunning pictures, including women at prayer in Baghdad and another, a Muslim man, lying naked on a bare floor while being washed for burial after being mortally wounded by gunfire.

They're posted on walls next to other images so graphically depicting the bloody horror of war, they're sometimes hard to look at. Still, the artistry's so captivating, even veteran scribes like those drawn to this auction don't turn away, especially when standing before this one.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

HUNTER-GAULT: It's the photo of a small doll's foot sticking out of the bulletproof vest worn by an American private in Afghanistan. It was given to him by a friend who survived a tour of duty in Iraq and attributed it to the lucky foot. It was the last photo Joao Silva took just before both his legs were blown off by a landmine sweepers had missed.

This auction was organized for Silva, his wife and two small children, by friends like Greg Marinovich.

Mr. GREG MARINOVICH (Photographer): So many things wrong physically with him from that damned land mine.

HUNTER-GAULT: Greg Marinovich is also a photographer who was there in southern Afghanistan at the time, and recently visited Silva in the hospital in America.

Mr. MARINOVICH: But, you know, it's operation after operation, and the trauma of the operation is a big setback to him healing. But spiritually, he's strong.

HUNTER-GAULT: It's most likely that spiritual strength that led Silva, along with Marinovich and a few others, to be nicknamed the Bang Bang Club, photographers who risked their lives taking pictures during the violent days of South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle. And why did they risk life and limb?

Mr. MARINOVICH: It was our country that was tearing itself apart, and we wanted to document it.

Unidentified Woman: So we're starting with lot seven, and I'm opening up the bid again at 420...

HUNTER-GAULT: And South Africans like Pete Backwell, an accountant, came and bid on some of those images.

Mr. PETE BACKWELL (Accountant): The photographs from the '90s are really an important part of South Africa's history. Some of them are beautiful images, and they capture some of the horror of that time. And I think all South Africans can do is remind them of what things were and compare them to what they are now.

HUNTER-GAULT: But once apartheid ended, the photographers found Bang Bang far afield. Marinovich tells me...

Mr. MARINOVICH: Yugoslavia - lots. But, I mean, mostly small, little incidents that barely made the news in South Africa that were just incredibly hectic and dangerous.

HUNTER-GAULT: Like Afghanistan, where the two men went last month with a friend who was making a documentary.

Mr. MARINOVICH: From the moment we landed, we hit hell, you know. Almost got killed the first moment we landed.

HUNTER-GAULT: Why did you stay? Why did you stay?

Mr. MARINOVICH: I wanted to leave.

HUNTER-GAULT: And why did he stay?

Mr. MARINOVICH: Because they said, OK. We came together. We leave together. And I said, I've got a very bad feeling. I want to leave now after a week. And then I said oh, if you guys are going to go, I can do it. Let's stay. Two days later, I got hit by a mortar.

HUNTER-GAULT: Marinovich shows no signs of his injury. That will not be the case with Joao Silva - the reason for this auction.

Unidentified Woman: Sixteen thousand and no more. Last chance, at sixteen thousand rand. Sold at sixteen thousand rand. Thank you, sir.

(Soundbite of applause)

HUNTER-GAULT: Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Johannesburg.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: And you can see Silva's photographs at NPR's photo blog: The Picture Show. This is NPR News.

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