Photojournalism is a very tough job, especially if it is done in conflict-torn or calamity-stricken areas. It is not surprising that this profession can have deep psychological impact on the person as he will have to see horror beyond imagination. Kevin Carter met his soul shaking when he saw a starving, emaciated Sudanese girl who collapsed one her way to a food camp. And a vulture waited in anticipation for girl’s death.
Like many of you, I had seen this photograph for the first time when it was forwarded to me through chain emails. The very first thing I felt after looking at the photograph was deepest of sorrows. This grief, however, sustained for a moment, or two, and was quickly replaced by a mix of amazement and anger. I immediately thought “What was the photographer doing in the God’s name?”. Not only me but millions of other people around the world asked the same question when this photograph was published and became viral on Internet.
Kevin Carter, the photographer, was 33 when he took this picture. He was a lensman who covered chaos and dread of wars in hope to establish himself as a photojournalist. Like other photographers he also craved for that special and perfect shot. Eventually that special photo came his way but not among the corpses in battlefields. Instead he clicked the photo, that took him to the heights of fame, in famine-stricken Sudan. Africa’s famines have sometimes been natural, for example the Ugandan famine, and sometimes it is man-made, for example the Biafra famine.
Carter was working with Weekly Mail in March 1993 when he took leaves, borrowed money for airfare and went to Sudan to cover the plight of starving Sudanese. As soon as his plane landed in the village of Ayod he started taking pictures of hungry people waiting outside a feeding camp. After sometime he heard high-pitched whimpering coming from nearby open bush. He went in there and found an emaciated, and barely alive, girl child struggling to reach the feeding center.
The condition of child was very bad. She had collapsed. Carter positioned himself to take her pictures. Suddenly a vulture also landed in his view. The bird waited for child to die so it can eat her. This was the scene that Carter clicked to get the photograph that I am presenting today. Later, Carter said that before taking this picture he waited for 20 minutes in hope that the vulture would spread its wings. But the bird did not oblige and Carter had to take the scene as it was. After that he chased the bird away and left the child with her struggle. Carter had become so distressed seeing all this that the very next day he left Sudan.
At that time The New York Times was looking for photographs from Sudan and it bought Carter’s photograph for publication. This photograph was first published on March 26, 1993 in the daily newspaper. It grabbed world’s attention and immediately brought both Sudan’s famine and Carter in spotlight.
Like I said in the beginning, a number of people, including some friends, criticized Carter for indulging in his photographic interests while the child was dying. Instead of waiting 20 minutes to get that perfect photograph he should have taken the dying girl to the feeding camp.
For this photo, Kevin Carter was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography on May 23, 1994. But he had seen too much of pain, distress, blood, hunger and death in life. Carter went into deep depression and on 27 July 1994 Kevin Carter committed suicide by inhaling carbon monoxide from his pick-up truck.
His suicide note read:
“I am depressed . . . without phone . . . money for rent . . . money for child support . . . money for debts . . . money!!! . . . 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 have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.”
In my view, Carter did wrong by not helping the child but he did not deserve any punishment for this. He was aware of the dilemma of a photojournalist. His job was to take photos and bring the reality in front of the world.
Please share you views on this photograph. Comments and feedback from my readers are extremely valuable for me. Thank you for reading and stay tuned for stories behind more iconic photographs.