Sudanese child stalked by vulture - Kevin Carter 1994
Whilst accompanying an aid drop in a United Nations food camp in Sudan, Kevin Carter photographed this emaciated child, seemingly being stalked by a hooded vulture. The New York Times published the image, which Carter received a Pulitzer prize for. Understandably, the image gained a lot of attention from the public, with many writing to the paper asking of the child’s fate, which The New York Times did not know. At this stage Carter faced a heated backlash from the public for not directly helping the child. He was compared to the vulture, preying on the starving. Within fourteen months of taking the image Carter committed suicide, aged thirty-three.
It’s not known whether the public accusations were the reason Carter took his life; He had chronicled many harrowing events in the name of raising awareness of apartheid era South Africa. Through this, he had been a member of the ‘Bang-Bang Club’, a name coined by the South African magazine Living, for the photojournalists that seemed to take on large personal risk in documenting the violence of the time. His close friend Kevin Oosterbroek, also in the Bang-Bang Club, was killed in 1994 at a clash between peacekeepers and the National African Congress, he was shot by the peacekeepers. Carter blamed himself.
Regardless of his mental situation, or the reasons for his death, the criticisms Carter faced were wholly unfounded; Whilst accompanying a UN supply plane, they landed in a food camp with a thirty-minute window to unload and move on. Everything that could be done to help the people at the location, with the resources available to those aid workers, was being done. Practically he could not have done much more. Carter was there as a photographer in order to raise awareness of the situation, to act as the eye that looks where most cannot. The camera would not have helped that child at that moment, but for many others in the same plight, the awareness he spread has. That’s the entire reason he was there, to give those people representation.*
According to Portuguese photojournalist Joao Silva who also accompanied the UN food-drop with Carter, the parents had left the child briefly to collect food from the drop off. The vultures where there to feed on the scraps of grain that where left. Although morbidly in starvations grasp, the child was in no danger from the vulture - like most photography, Kevin composed the image to create an allegory. After Carter got the photo he deemed most iconic, he chased the bird away.
It seems that society had a problem with Carter being rewarded, and gratified for a piece of work that relied on the suffering of another, which makes sense at first, but Carter did not cause that suffering, and devoted his life to end it. Risking your life on a daily basis and seeing horrors that most - himself included - would want to forget, is not a way to take advantage of that child or the situation. Legitimate disgust at the existence of such an appalling situation was loaded upon him, unfairly. The undeniable self-serving manipulation of the Sudanese child was done (and continues to be) by demanding unfair interest on corrupt loans made to African nations generations ago. The vultures in this scenario are us.
*You could argue that he is not representing the child with dignity, or how it may choose. That is a big argument in representing those afflicted by poverty, but it has nothing to do with his supposed self-interest or lack of compassion.
Ted Talks: The Way We Think About Charity Is Dead Wrong - Partly covers the issue of a skewed perception for those working within the umbrella of aid. Great watch.
The Bang-Bang Club - Short documentary on the group of photojournalists.
Written by Jazz Chandler