J. Ross Baughman | Rhodesia

Here at IP, I am devoted to providing accurate and informative backstories about iconic photos, but sometimes, I simply get things wrong. Here is one of such stories: @aalholmes

In 1977, J. Ross Baughman was documenting the bloody guerrilla war that broke out in Rhodesia as the minority white rule slowly disintegrates there; the attacks on anti-government guerillas were especially fierce and Baughman rode with a cavalry unit, Grey’s Scouts, and captured them torturing prisoners. Baughman remembers:

They force them to line up in push-up stance. They’re holding that position for 45 minutes in the sun, many of them starting to shake violently. Eventually, the first guy fell. They took him around the back of the building, knocked him out and fired a shot into the air. They continued bring men to the back of the building. The poor guy on the end started crying and going crazy and he finally broke and started talking. As it turns out, what he was saying wasn’t true, but the scouts were willing to use it as a lead. It had all the feeling of an eventual massacre. I was afraid that I might see entire villages murdered.

In my original post (June 2010), I posited that journalists don’t usually carry guns, since that meant forfeiture of a journalist’s status  as a neutral noncombatant under international law. I also erroneously claimed that J. Ross Baughman was the first photographer to tote a gun. In his correspondence to me, Mr. Baughman points out:

While some journalists might like to think that they enjoy special protections and immunity during conflict, in fact, no such practical guarantees exist. When a journalist anywhere near a military force happens to walk into the field of fire, either within the gun-sights or less impersonally anywhere near the radius of an impending explosion, no distinctions are made by the person about to squeeze the trigger. Soldiers often do not want to babysit a civilian asking to accompany their unit. They require fully embedded guests to be armed and capable of defending themselves, especially if such a civilian becomes detached from the unit or lost….

As long as cameras have gone to war, correspondents have been seen and documented carrying arms. A brief but incomplete list includes Alfred R. Waud during the American Civil War (shown in this photo with a revolver on his hip), Winston Churchill during the Boer War (carrying a automatic Mauser C-96 “Broomhandle” carbine), Ernest Hemingway during World War II (strapped with a 45 cal. Colt automatic and sometimes a Thompson submachine gun) and Peter Arnett during the Vietnam War ….

When I arrived in Rhodesia, there were many foreign correspondents (such as Lord Richard Cecil) already carrying weapons whenever they left the relative safety of the capital city limits. In my case, carrying a weapon was a precondition of being allowed out on the patrol.

In my original post, I wrote Baughman has infiltrated Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups in the United States and Rhodesian Army, implication being the photographer secretly documented those groups. This was incorrect, as Mr. Baughman writes:

I infiltrated the Nazi Movement in America because it was the only way I could get access into their meetings and uncover their secret intentions. In the case of the Ku Klux Klan, there was no misrepresentation and I attended their meetings as a journalist. Likewise, I did not “infiltrate” or “join” the Rhodesian military… I arrived as a journalist, and all the soldiers knew that and treated me that way.

007-004 Rhodesia - Noose (Pulitzer) v3
The Rhodesian Army put nooses around guerrillas’ necks and dragged them behind horses

Most of Baughman’s work was confiscated by the Rhodesian authorities, but he managed to smuggle three rolls of films — for which (and for three photos featured in this post, especially) he won the Pulitzer Prize, and became the youngest professional photographer to win that prestigious award.*

But the photos were not without controversy. When they met to judge the entries for the Robert Capa Gold Medal, some members of the Overseas Press Club doubted the photos’ authenticity and questioned whether they were posed. As Baughman was unavailable to address these concerns, the photos were rashly disqualified (over objections of some notable photographers and editors); they were displayed in the Overseas Press Club Exhibit with a disclaimer: “A Judge’s Dilemma – This story out of Rhodesia began to receive serious consideration from the judging panel until we were advised that there was some controversy about the authenticity of the situation. Because of the inability of the panel to confirm or deny the rumor, the photographs were dropped from consideration, but are presented here.”

Later, after subjecting the smuggled rolls of film to careful scrutiny, Howard Chapnick — a leading arbiter of photojournalism — noted the photos indeed showed Baughman “working candidly in tight, economical bursts of two or three frames at a time … nothing about them suggested that the situations had been manipulated or staged … It becomes increasingly clear that the Baughman affair has been badly handled.”

Baughman wrote:

Regarding all those “unresolved doubts” about the authenticity of the images, suffice it to say that the primary critics from the Overseas Press Club judging committee finally apologized to me, and even John Durniak of Time and Arthur Rothstein of Parade magazine went on to hire me for several important assignments in the following years. The best absolution came when Sgt. Bruce Moore-King, a principal non-commissioned officer in my Rhodesian Grey’s Scouts report, confessed to committing the same kinds of torture and atrocities in his own autobiography White Man/Black War.

Chapnick concluded:

It becomes increasingly clear that the Baughman affair has been badly handled. A saddened Art Rothstein reflectively comments that ‘if Ross Baughman has been unjustly and unfairly accused and his reputation damaged in any way, I would like to see him vindicated. If there was injustice, it resulted from the conditions under which the photographs were submitted, the lack of information, and the fact that Baughman was unavailable to talk to… If in any way I was part of this injustice, I feel very badly about it.

‘In retrospect,’ says John Morris, ‘I feel that Ross Baughman was unfairly treated by the Overseas Press Club jury. We simply did not have all the facts, but I’m not sure that excuses us.’

Maybe we can learn something from this experience to apply to future contest judging. Taking the time for further investigation might have provided the answers to the ‘unsolved questions’ which troubled the Overseas Press Club jury. The price for a precipitous rush to judgment can be too high. It certainly was for Ross Baughman.

I think there was some lesson to be learnt here, especially in our quick-to-judge culture of today.

007-005 Rhodesia - Lieutenant with Bat & Prisoner (Pulitzer) v2
A young Rhodesian lieutenant holding a bat he used to interrogate politician Moffat Ncube (shown unconscious in the background)

… oh, and sorry for f**king things up first time around and thank you for correcting me, Mr. Baughman.

Further Reading: Howard Chapnick. “Behind the Pulitzer Prize controversy”. Popular Photography, June,1979; Charles Rotkin. “A Puzzle for the Press Club”. News Photographer, June, 1978.

*(John Filo was still a student and an amateur photographer when he won the Pulitzer for his Kent State photo).

26 thoughts on “J. Ross Baughman | Rhodesia

  1. Reblogged this on n j w v and commented:
    While the detailed correction is impressive and welcome, this quotation is just too good to pass up without highlighting it.
    “When they met to judge the entries for the Robert Capa Gold Medal, some members of the Overseas Press Club doubted the photos’ authenticity and questioned whether they were posed.”

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  3. Yeah those darned Rhodesians were so terrible. Forget the guerilla massacres on orphanages and schools, the rape and mutilation of civilian women, let’s just show how brutal the Rhodesian military was.

    More left-wing propaganda.

    • I have read about atrocities committed by the guerrillas during the war. I haven’t seen any photos. This is a blog about photography not Rhodesian/Zimbabwean history or politics. I’m sure if there are iconic photos of pre-independence guerrilla atrocities the blog author would post them. Perhaps you can provide some from your days as a Selous Scout?

  4. It’s about time to correct “three rolls of fills”.

    After all is said and done, wouldn’t the average Rhodesian/Zimbabwean be better off if Ian Smith stayed in power? I welcome all criticism, this is nothing I hold dogmatically.

    • “Wouldn’t the average Rhodesian/Zimbabwean be better off if Ian Smith stayed in power?”
      Can one be better off without freedom, equality and democratic rights?Your question is preposterous!

      • Do the Zimbabwean people enjoy freedom,equality and democratic rights at present? No they don’t. So the question is actually not preposterous at all.

  5. Rhodesia, and South Africa, under white rule, gave Africans a better chance. South Africa is turning in Zimbabwe where marxism and black tribal rule of law, is much worse than these pictures are.

    People, especially white people, love to judge Africa, from the comfort of their western lifestyles. The end of the day, African culture is not western, and the term “savages” did not just come to happen. In Africa, you adapt to African culture, or you die as an individual or group. Tribal culture, and the strongest group is the group that survive. Go to Africa with a “white privileged” mindset of “human rights” and you will die sooner rather than later. Africa is not Europe, nor is it the US. As a white man, you adapt to black culture, at whatever cost. If you have no where to go, you don’t have an option.

    Here’s more iconic photo’s of what the guerilla’s did, and the information these “white” men tried to extract, in order to fight more atrocities to happen:



    • The white minority committed state-sanctioned atrocities against blacks in an unsuccessful attempt to preserve their oppressive power. The oppressed black majority committed atrocities against whites in a successful attempt to gain their freedom. Freedom, by any means necessary. The whites, who were ALL beneficiaries of the racist regime, set the terms of the struggle when they blatantly refused to consider political, non/militant solutions. That meant war was our only option.

      You reap what you sow. If we’d had to choose between killing EVERY white person, including babies, or giving up our freedom struggle, we would have followed the example of Louvert’s Haiti and killed EVERY one of you. YOU do not decide for me the price for my freedom, just as we were not asked by you the price you were willing to pay to hold on to your savage apartheid system.

      FYI: In Rhodesia, you whites were “the savages”. Your system was savage. Your beliefs were savage.

      How long did you think we were going to allow so few of you to oppress so many of us so savagely? You are lucky you survived our righteous wrath. You are also lucky you were allowed to remain in our country after we won the war. You are lucky you were allowed to keep land in our country after the war. You are lucky you were not all driven out or killed in a bloodbath after the war. You have Robert Mugabe to thank for that. He may be crazy now, but back then he gave you a better deal than you deserved.

      • Duly Noted……

        Really,…..whites savages?….Then how do you account for this..”THE ELIM MISSION MASSACRE” ?

      • Duly Noted,
        Mugabe carried on the same tribal warfare that allowed the British South Africa Company to take over the land to begin with – Matabele slaughtering Shona, and Shona killing Matabele. During the time I served in the Security Forces, the whites negotiated majority rule and Zimbabwe’s first Black Government under Bishop Abel Muzorewa.

        Bishop Muzorewa tried to form a united Government that transcended race, tribe and colour. But Mugabe and Nkomo ran tribal backed terrorist outfits (representing the Matabele and Shona respectively) and also backed by competing Communist states. Mugabe was supported by China, North Korea, and the Khmer Rouge – so you know where he came from, and may have some understanding of his behaviour – after all, Mugabe praised Pol Pot!

        Rhodesia may have had issues – but we never had a system of apartheid like the South Africans – if anything, at worst it was benign neglect – admittedly not great, but there never any laws against intermarriage, property ownership or education, and the health system was better then than today. In some ways Rhodesia was no worse that Britain or America at the same time – probably better – we had no lynching or murders of blacks or civil rights activists as was common in America over the same period – and the rule of law existed to protect all people.

        Lastly, over the entire period that he was Prime Minister, the much maligned Ian Smith lived in a simple Government supplied cottage from which he walked to Rhodesia’s Parliament. Usually he was protected by only a single Special Branch bodyguard……Mugabe has a dozen official Palaces, and needs a full mechanised infantry unit to escort him anywhere in his “free” Zimbabwe!

        So “Duly Noted” cut your ZANU crap!

    • This photo is not a Rhodesian attrocity…it is the very embodiament of what zipra or zapu did to anyone suspected of aiding whites or “informing” on their activities in their own country. And yes, I dont know of any reports of rhodesian service men beyonetting pregnant women to death or beyonetting 3 month old babies in the head. Many should read the elim misión report before opening their mouths here. There were blacks who reported on White military activities through fear of torture and death only to be killed after they gave information. It is incorrect to say all blacks in rhodesia were treated badly. some were traitors to their own kind, some did so out of fear of reprisal from zapu or zipra and other died because they would not betray their country or people. Those that died are claimed as heros of the revolution when in fact they were just abused and discarded by their own kind. They are not here today to tell what mugabes men did to their sons and daughetrs and villages. All in the name of his cause.

    • To the owner of the blog: please be aware that the photograph above, of an mutilated dead man, that supposedly is evidence of attrocities committed by the “guerillas” (in fact: anti-colonialist resistance), is most likely a product of the Rhodesian PsyOps department: http://www.psywarrior.com/RhodesiaPSYOP.html

      The Rhodesian Regime back then had a sophisticated machinery, not only in terms of weaponry and military infrastructure, but also in regards to propaganda, public relations efforts and means of manipulation of the public opinion.

      Please bear this in mind!

      Thanks for the great article on J. Ross Baughman, a real hero of photojournalism, whom I only became aware of recently.

    • Baughman refers to Moore-King’s book as an “autobiography” and claims that it supports his case – this is an exaggeration. The book is neither autobiography nor history, more a series of vague cameos that give no names, dates or places, that can be checked for historical accuracy. In fact, many reviewers describe it as a novel. Further, it was written and published in Zimbabwe, where Moore-King was trying to further his career under the dictator Mugabe, and presumably felt it would establish his bona fides as a pro-Mugabe, anti-Smith, all-round reliable employee. I own a copy of the book.

      Two other books mention the Baughman photo controversy – the excellent account of journalists in Africa written by Christopher Munnion (of UK Daily Telegraph fame) under the title “Banana Sunday” and the book “Major Mike” by the American Major Mike Williams, 2IC of the Grey’s Scouts at that time, with the assistance of Robin Moore. Munnion was not complimentary regarding Baughman’s methods and activities as a photo-journalist, regarding him with distrust, an opinion that was enlarged upon by Major Williams who pointed out that Baughman not only carried a weapon but was also keen to use it, on one occasion while attempting to “help” prevent a captive terrorist from escaping. According to Williams, the non-military gun-toting journalist proved more of a danger to the troops than to the enemy.

      Far from trying to censor Baughman’s work, the Rhodesian military insisted on allowing him to accompany patrols, despite objections from the Grey’s Scouts officers that he was becoming a danger to their men and a liability due to his erratic behaviour. After the photos had been published amidst much controversy the Rhodesian Government set up an inquiry and offered Baughman complete immunity if he would return and give evidence. Baughman did not accept the offer. Some of the people interviewed for the inquiry stated that Baughman had persuaded black Rhodesian soldiers to pose as captured terrorists, which they did, believing his story that the photos were for his private collection. Since Baughman did not attend the inquiry, little was produced in his defence. The Rhodesian military nevertheless dismissed several officers to show that they were taking Baughman’s claims seriously.

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  7. Oh so easy to cherry pick events with the benefit of hindsight. It was not your grandmother who sat up all night listening for gunfire and scrambling under the bed at the slightest knock or indication of possible gunshots. Paralysed by fear and immobilized by hopelessness the locals cowered and hid while the privileged whites rolled in on their expensive military equipment, horses chewing on biltong from slain native cattle. For the Zimbabweans (Rhodesians) at that time, the horrors were little imagined or rationalised as the course of history, rather real, day to day mind numbing, heart stopping throat choking realities from which there was no escape. The natives were fearful of the white Army, the Guerillas who carried out beatings and murders of those accused of selling out. The natives were caught in the middle and it was a matter of time before death came calling for you, at the hands of any of the warring parties. It was a terrible time of doomsday proportions where grown people cried themselves to sleep, afraid to wake the next morning. White people brutalised the natives with impunity, some were thrown into disused mine shafts and sealed in, some provided entertainment by fighting 3 to 5 dogs in a drained swimming pool to the amusement of whites. To sit here and read how high and mighty the very same white people talk about winning prizes because they captured the most gruesome atrocities and to hear them congratulate each other on being masters of the world while every single one of them is not without fault in the killing of babies and pregnant women, all in the name of holding onto their precios Rhodesia makes me sick to my stomach. Whites indeed got a sweet deal from Robert Mugabe, the whole lot deserve to be lynched and beaten to death, read the death of Emmett Till. How do white people live with themselves. I feel powerless and ashamed, for had I the power, I would give the whites a taste of what they put Zimbabweans through. If there is a GOD in heaven, then show thine might and balance the blood scales. For generations black people have wept, toiled and died under the influence of the white man. to date the tyranny does not end. What kind of people are you if even…

    You cannot win every battle of every war everyday, the roles will be swopped one day and on that day the blacks will sing and dance on your lifeless corpses.

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