Marinovich is the son of an immigrant from Korčula, Croatia. In 1985 Marinovich took pictures of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a church service in Johannesburg. It was his first news event. To avoid military service he left the country shortly thereafter. He moved to Botswana. At the northern border he meet members of the South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO). There started his interest to explore more the living condition of people in times under political extremis. Back in South Africa he worked for a hiking and safari company. At this job, he learn as an autodidact how to write articles and how to become a photojournalist. He also succeeded in finding jobs with Johannesburg-based newspapers as a photographer and sub-editing freelancer.
On 17 August 1990, Marinovich who was 27 at the time went to Soweto to cover the fighting in the hostels war. He sold the photos of the killings he witnessed to the Associated Press Johannesburg office. From that day on, he regularly worked in Soweto, often working for the AP. On 15 September 1990 Marinovich travelled again to the townships with an AP reporter from the United States. The most notorious from this period was the photos of the murder of Lindsaye Tshabalala, a Zulu Inkatha supporter and burning of his body. The photos received the Pulitzer Prize for spot news in 1991. After the publishing of the photos, the South African police tried to locate him as a witness to the killing, but failed as the photos credited Sebastian Balic. Marinovich was not interested in being a witness, because of the risk associated, and outing by informants.
For the nature of his work as a non-black journalist in South Africa, and the whole process of Resistance Photography and censorship and challenges facing Resistance Photographers, he says race was a major factor, especially in the pursuit of journalists by the South African police and the arrest of journalists. In his joint book with João Silva, he writes about his work:
Very soon, he left Johannesburg to London where he received his first ever international assignment for Belgrade in November 1990 and then for Budapest. He then flew back to South Africa and reported again about the hostels war. Marinovich has been shot and wounded four times while covering conflicts in South Africa and Afghanistan.
Main engagements as journalist include:1988: Freelance photographer and writer specializing in social documentary and anthropology. Part-time copy editor at a South African financial magazine.
1991: Freelance photographer, with works published in Time magazine, Newsweek, The New York Times, the Associated Press, and as a member of the Bang-Bang Club.
April 1996 to August 1997: Chief Photographer, The Associated Press covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
2011: Associate Editor, The Daily Maverick, Johannesburg, as writer and photographer
2015: Co-founder and editor: The Stand in the United States being a global documentary and photojournalism agency published om thestandglobal.com.
In addition, he has been engaged for international assignment in vatious conflict zones including Angola, Bosnia, Chechnya, Croatia, India, Mozambique, Russia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Yugoslavia and Zaire.1992: "Somalia" (in Johannesburg)
1993: "Croatia" (in Johannesburg)
1993: "Bosnia & Croatia" (at the United Nations in New York)
1999-2001: "Architecture, Apartheid and After" (at Rotterdam, The Netherlands (1999); Berlin, Germany (2000); Johannesburg (2000/2001))
2000: "AIDS" (in Johannesburg).
The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden war (co-authored with João Silva). Heinneman UK, 2000; Basic Books USA 2000
A Man's Journey to Simple Abundance (a collection of essays). Scribner USA, 2000.
Grijalbo, Spain 2001.
Murder at Small Koppie: the real story of the Marikana Massacre
Der Bang-Bang Club. Wunderhorn, Germany, 2015
The Bang-Bang Club was about the group of four South African photographers active within the townships of South Africa during the apartheid period, particularly between 1990 and 1994. Murder at Small Koppie was an investigative account of the events leading up to South African Police killing 34 miners, who were striking in South Africa on 16 August 2012.
Marinovich was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1991 for his coverage of African National Congress supporters brutally murdering a man they believed to be an Inkatha spy.
Other awards won by Marinovich include:Leica Award for excellence 1990
Visa d'Or, Scoop Award (France) 1990
Overseas Press Club 1991
Runner up to Pulitzer twice (1992 and 1993)
United Nations Award of Recognition for Services to Humanity, 1994
Mondi Award for Magazine Photography (1995)
Crime Special 1995
Ten Days in Afghanistan 1999
The Way of The Forefathers 2000
Village of the Spirits 2001
Looking for Luck 2002
The Lord's Children 2004
Small Boys, Big Guns 2004
Conversations with Goldblatt 2005
Njengue, Spirit of the Forest 2005
Dancers of God 2005
In addition, he did a series of films for the EU and UNICEF throughout Africa 2010.
Marinovich teaches at the Harvard Extension School. He also teaches photojournalism and film at Boston University.
Marinovich was editor-in-chief of the Twenty Ten Project. The series entitled "Twenty Ten Project – Road to 2010" was an initiative of World Press Photo, Free Voice, Africa Media Online and Lokaal Mondiaal dedicated to reporting on African football, related issues and the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa from an African perspective.