Thursday, July 7, 2011


Vulture and Child (1993)

Visiting Sudan, a little-known photographer took a picture that made the world weep. What happened afterward is a tragedy of another sort. The image presaged no celebration: a child barely alive, a vulture so eager for carrion. Yet the photograph that epitomized Sudan's famine would win Kevin Carter fame - and hopes for anchoring a career spent hounding the news, free-lancing in war zones, waiting anxiously for assignments amid dire finances, staying in the line of fire for that one great picture. On May 23, 14 months after capturing that memorable scene, Carter walked up to the dais in the classical rotunda of Columbia University's Low Memorial Library and received the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. The South African soaked up the attention. "I swear I got the most applause of anybody," Carter wrote back to his parents in Johannesburg. "I can't wait to show you the trophy. It is the most precious thing, and the highest acknowledgment of my work I could receive."
(SCOTT MACLEOD/JOHANNESBURG, Time magazine 12 September 1994 Volume 144 Number 11 at

Kevin Carter
From The Daily Omnivore at
Kevin Carter was born in apartheid South Africa and grew up in a middle-class, whites-only neighborhood. As a child, he occasionally saw police raids to arrest blacks who were illegally living in the area. He said later that he questioned how his parents, a Catholic, "liberal" family, could be what he described as 'lackadaisical' about fighting against apartheid.
After high school, Carter dropped out of his studies to become a pharmacist and was drafted into the army, which he hated. To escape from the infantry he signed up for the professional air force, mistakenly trapping himself into four years of service. In 1980, he witnessed a black mess-hall waiter being insulted. Carter defended the man, resulting in his being badly beaten by the other soldiers. He then went AWOL, attempted to start a new life as a radio disk-jockey named "David". This, however, proved more difficult than he had anticipated. Suffering from extreme depression, he attempted suicide. Soon after, he found himself back in the military, and following an ANC attack on the base he was stationed at in Pretoria, he decided he wanted to become a news photographer.
“The violence which accompanied the decline of apartheid and the emergence of a democratic society in South Africa was extraordinarily brutal. People were hacked to death and burned alive in front of Kevin Carter's lens. Many photographers are able to use the camera as an emotional shield to protect themselves from what they're witnessing. But Kevin was as exposed emotionally as his film was to the images that he saw.
He, in some ways, was perhaps not adequately suited to do this kind of work because it took its toll on him in a much more serious way than it did his colleagues. That's not to say his colleagues weren't also deeply affected. They were.
And the environment at that time.....there was a lot of drinking and drugging going on, but it was not purely hedonistic. It was a reaction to the difficulty, the strain of this work. You have to imagine, it's almost like hopping between hot and cold water. You would spend your mornings taking photographs and reporting on the violence that happened the night before, which was often going into the townships and trying to find burned corpses, or hacked-up bodies,. And then you would spend the afternoon in the suburbs having tea and filing your pictures.
And so you had this huge disconnect between these two realities that were very closely situated. Photographers were constantly moving between the safety and comfort of the suburbs and this hellish world of violence and chaos in the townships. And they were trapped between those two worlds. They were lost in a sense. They didn't really have a firm footing in either world, and I think that caused some dysfunction” - Dan Krauss, the director of The Death of Kevin Carter.
Portuguese photojournalist based in South Africa João Silva, who accompanied Carter to Sudan, gave a different version of events in an interview with Japanese journalist and writer Akio Fujiwara that was published in Fujiwara's book The Boy who Became a Postcard.
According to Silva, they (Carter and Silva) went to Sudan with the United Nations aboard Operation Lifeline Sudan and landed in Southern Sudan on March 11, 1993. The UN told them that they would take off again in 30 minutes (the time necessary to distribute food), so they ran around looking to take shots. The UN started to distribute corn and the women of the village came out of their wooden huts to meet the plane. Silva went looking for guerrilla fighters, while Carter strayed no more than a few dozen feet from the plane.
Again according to Silva, Carter was quite shocked as it was the first time that he had seen a famine situation and so he took many shots of the children suffering from famine. Silva also started to take photos of children on the ground as if crying, which were not published. The parents of the children were busy taking food from the plane, so they had left their children only briefly while they collected the food. This was the situation for the girl in the photo taken by Carter. A vulture landed behind the girl. To get the two in focus, Carter approached the scene very slowly so as not to scare the vulture away and took a photo from approximately 10 metres. He took a few more photos and then the vulture flew off.
When the image of the prostrate girl and the patient vulture appeared, many people demanded to know what had happened to her. The New York Times explained in an editors' note that while she resumed her trek, the photographer didn't know if she had survived. Carter stood accused; callers in the middle of the night denounced him. The girl began to haunt the photographer.
This was found in his diary:
‘Dear God, I promise I will never waste my food no matter how bad it can taste and how full I may be. I pray that He will protect this little girl, guide and deliver her away from her misery. I pray that we will be more sensitive towards the world around us and not be blinded by our own selfish nature and interests.
I hope this picture will always serve as a reminder to us that how fortunate we are and that we must never ever take things for granted.’
On 27 July 1994, two months after receiving his Pulitzer, Carter drove to the Braamfonteinspruit River, near the Field and Study Centre, an area where he used to play as a child. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the age of 33. Portions of Carter’s note read:
“I am depressed.....without for for child support … money for!!!.....I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners.....The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist.....I have gone to join Ken (Photojournalist friend who was killed by friendly fire a few months earlier) if I am that lucky.”

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