How Photojournalism Killed Kevin Carter

Warning: some photos in this article are graphic.

Kevin Carter Vulture Photo

Kevin Carter’s most famous photo. Source: The Unsolicited Opinion

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.

Kevin Carter Trash Can Lid

Photojournalist Guy Adams took this shot of Carter during township violence; behind him, a man uses a trash can lid as a shield. Source: Miko Photo

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.

Kevin Carter On Location

Photographer Rebecca Hearfield taking a picture of Carter. Source: WordPress

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.

Kevin Carter Bang Bang Club

The Bang-Bang Club
Source: WordPress

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.

Kevin Carter Necklacing

At the start of his career, Carter took this first-ever photo of a necklacing victim burning Source: Miko Photo

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.

Kevin Carter Sudanese Soldiers

This is a photo of Carter that includes a few of the soldiers in the frame.
Source: Vimeo

This is a photo of Carter that includes a few of the soldiers in the frame.

Kevin Carter With Soldiers In Sudan

Source: Vimeo

Leslie Maryann Neal
Leslie Maryann Neal is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She received her BA in English from California State University, Long Beach.
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