Remembering Kevin Carter and the photo that made the world weep

Kevin Carter's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph
September 13, 2015 /Photography News/ Born 55 years ago, on 13 September 1960 (d. 27 July 1994), Kevin Carter was an award-winning South African photojournalist and member of the Bang-Bang Club. He was the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph depicting the 1993 famine in Sudan. Following the winning of the Pulitzer Prize he committed suicide at the age of 33. 

In March 1993, while on a trip to Sudan, Carter was preparing to photograph a starving toddler trying to reach a feeding center when a hooded vulture landed nearby. Carter reported taking the picture, because it was his "job title", and leaving.

Sold to the New York Times, the photograph first appeared on 26 March 1993 and was carried in many other newspapers around the world. Hundreds of people contacted the Times to ask the fate of the girl. The paper reported that it was unknown whether she had managed to reach the feeding center. On May 23, 14 months after capturing that memorable scene, Carter walked up to the platform in the classical rotunda of Columbia University's Low Memorial Library and received the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. 

With the success of the image came a lot of controversy, and questions were raised about the ethics of taking such a photograph. An article printed in 1994 in the St Petersberg Times commented on the morality of Carters actions, ‘the man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene,’ (Stamets cited in Ricchiardi, 1999). 

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) have a ‘Code of Ethics’ which sets out certain ethical responsibilities when carrying out journalistic work, one reads as thus, ‘while photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events’ (NPPA, 2010). Considering this, one can say Carter was objective and documented what he saw, capturing the severity of the situation in Sudan. But does this alleviate him from the responsibilities of being a good human being?

On 27 July 1994 Carter drove his way to the Braamfonte near the Field and Study Centre, an area where he used to play as a child, and took his own life by taping one end of a hose to his pickup truck’s exhaust pipe and running the other end to the driver's side window. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning, aged 33. Portions of Carter's 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 and corpses and anger and 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."

Carter's story is depicted in the 2010 feature film, The Bang-Bang-Club in which he was played by Taylor Kitsch.

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  1. Anonymous says

    I happen to have this whole video of the above scene and this video has changed my life forever learning that gratitude is a blessing of ones soul.

    Anonymous says

    I read that there was a plane nearby that had landed to distribute food and that this child was likely left there briefly during that process and that once the photo was taken that Carter chased the bird away and the child wasn't in danger from the bird.

    Anonymous says

    Please note, it should read, "... member of the *so-called* Bang-Bang Club." This was never an official group or title in any way.

    gordon says

    What a sad ending to a photographer who created such thought provoking work.

    Anonymous says

    A tragic end for such a talent.
    It is said that 85% of artists are emotionally disturbed.
    Therein lies the ability to create. I believe that is why so many
    of the greatest talents our planet has seen, have not survived for long with us.
    No coping mechanism.
    As a fellow photographer, for many years, I understand, however, have
    endured, long past the time that I have cared to.
    Much love and prayers to the creative souls that grace our lives for a short
    time, and leave us early but their gift remains .....

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    Gregory Mengell says

    Pray that you will never know the Hell where youth and laughter go.World should thank this man for showing this disgrace that spattered all of us with innocent blood.Man how I hate war and needless slaughter.

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