Warning: some photos in this article are graphic and disturbing.
When this photograph capturing the suffering of the Sudanese famine was published in the New York Times on March 26, 1993, the reader reaction was intense and not all positive. Some people said that Kevin Carter, the photojournalist who took this photo, was inhumane, that he should have dropped his camera to run to the little girl’s aid. The controversy only grew when, a few months later, he won the Pulitzer Prize for the photo. By the end of July, 1994, he was dead.
Emotional detachment allowed Carter and other photojournalists to witness countless tragedies and continue the job. The world’s intense reactions to the vulture photo appeared to be punishment for this necessary trait. Later, it became painfully clear that he hadn’t been detached at all. He had been deeply, fatally affected by the horrors he had witnessed.
Carter grew up in South Africa during apartheid. He became a photojournalist because he felt he needed to document the sickening treatment not only of blacks by whites, but between black ethnic groups as well, like those between Xhosas and Zulus.
Joining ranks with only a few other photojournalists, Carter would step right into the action to get the best shot. A South African newspaper nicknamed the group the Bang-Bang Club. At that time, photographers used the term “bang-bang” to refer to the act of going out to the South African townships to cover the extreme violence happening there.
In a few short years, he saw countless murders from beatings, stabbings, gunshots, and necklacing, a barbaric practice in which a tire filled with oil is placed around the victim’s neck and lit on fire.
Carter took a special assignment in Sudan, where he shot the famous vulture photo. He spent a few days touring villages full of starving people. All the while, he was surrounded by armed Sudanese soldiers who were there to keep him from interfering. The photos below are evidence that even if he decided to help the little girl, the soldiers wouldn’t have allowed it. The first was shot by Carter himself.
This is a photo of Carter that includes a few of the soldiers in the frame.