Monday, March 17, 2008
“Witness the shot of a stick-thin, malnourished toddler who stopped to rest on her way to a feeding station in war-torn Sudan. The picture, taken by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter, shows the girl on her knees, bent at the waist with her forehead resting on the dry, dusty dirt.
She is alone except for a vulture behind her, waiting for her to die.
This picture captivated the world in 1993 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994. A few months later, Carter taped a garden hose to the exhaust of his pick-up truck and fed the other end into the passenger side window.
Broke and depressed over the loss of a friend, his suicide note read, in part, ‘I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain . . . of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners.'"
- I.U. South Bend Preface, 4/07
“Mr. Carter started as a sports photographer in 1983 but soon moved to the front lines of South African political strife, recording images of repression, anti-apartheid protest and fratricidal violence. A few days after winning his Pulitzer Prize in April, Mr. Carter was nearby when one of his closest friends and professional companions, Ken Oosterbroek, was shot dead photographing a gun battle in Tokoza township.
His picture of an emaciated girl collapsing on the way to a feeding centre, as a plump vulture lurked in the background, was published first in The New York Times and The Mail & Guardian, a Johannesburg weekly. The reaction to the picture was so strong that The New York Times published an unusual editor's note on the fate of the girl. Mr. Carter said she resumed her trek to the feeding centre. He chased away the vulture.
Afterwards, he told an interviewer, he sat under a tree for a long time, ‘smoking cigarettes and crying’. His father, Mr. Jimmy Carter said last night: ‘Kevin always carried around the horror of the work he did.’”
- The New York Times, 1994, from Carter’s obituary
A recent discussion among those of us who traveled together to Uganda this past December about the moral dilemmas with which image- makers are sometimes confronted, as well as the emotional hardships endured by witnessing and recording trauma, led to a conversation about Kevin Carter and this well known photograph.
The photograph won Carter a Pulitzer Prize and catapulted him to photo fame; it also evoked much criticism. Many felt it was wrong of him to simply stand by and make a picture of the starving girl rather than putting down his camera and helping her to the nearby feeding center. Others took the stance that had he not made the picture, Sudan would have remained an unknown tragedy.
It is a thought provoking dialogue, one that often comes up among image-makers in devastating situations. If you would like to learn more about Carter check out this video.