Today I read a journal on Kevin Carter. The urge to know more about this South African photojournalist who received Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 1994, made me restless. That is when Google came handy. Following is what I perceived about his mastery and his dilemma that led him to commit suicide.
Born on 13th September,1960, Kevin Carter joined army after dropping out of his high school studies. He escaped from the infantry only to join the Air Force. There he was beaten ruthlessly by few servicemen because he had defended a black mess-hall waiter who was being insulted.
Since childhood he saw his parents being “lackadaisical” about the struggle against apartheid.
Journalism happened to him in 1983. He started his career as a sports journalist. Thereafter, in 1984, he joined Johannesburg Star and exposed the barbarity of apartheid. In the mid-1980s, Carter became the first to photograph “necklacing”, a public execution by the black Africans in South Africa. To quote Carter –
“I was appalled at what they were doing. But then people started talking about those pictures… then I felt that maybe my actions hadn’t been at all bad. Being a witness to something this horrible wasn’t necessarily such a bad thing to do.”
In March 1994 Carter went on a trip to the village of Ayod, Southern Sudan, accompanied by his Portuguese photojournalist friend Joao Silva.The journalists were strictly told not to touch the victims of the famine stricken Sudan to avoid the chances of transmitting diseases. They traveled with the UN aboard Operation Lifeline on 11th March 1093. Both of them were told that they had just 30 minutes to take the shots as the time was enough for the distribution of food. While Silva got busy looking for the guerrilla fighters, Carted was arrested by the whimpering sound of a 3-year-old girl who had stopped to catch her breath while struggling to get to the UN food camp. To add to the sad plight of the emaciated poor toddler, a vulture had landed just a few meters away from the child. Carter, shocked at the several things that he had seen for the first time through his camera in Sudan, took the shot and shooed the vulture away.
This soul-stirring pic of a starving skeletal toddler being stalked by the deadly vulture won Pulitzer Prize for Kevin Carter in 1994. But it became the center of detrimental controversy all over. It was sold to the New york Times. On 26th March 1994 this picture was published for the first time. Later it appeared in several other newspapers and journals all around the globe. Hundreds of people inquired after the sad fate of the toddler. The paper ran a special editor’s note saying that the girl had managed to walk away from the giant vulture but her ultimate fate was unknown.
Unable to get rid of the horrifying images of the victims of famine and haunted by the piercing criticism by everyone around, Kevin Carter committed suicide at the age of 33 in Braamfontein (a central suburb in Johannesburg in South Africa) near the Field and Study center, a place where he used to play as a child.
Carter left a suicide note portions of which read –
“I’m really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist… 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.”
Sources,however suggest that it was not just his much criticized emotive picture that made him commit suicide. He had family problems plus he was fighting a drug habit. As a photographer he was traumatized by the massacre he witnessed in the famine stricken and war-torn places. Also, Carter was shattered by the death of his dear friend and colleague, Ken Oosterbroek, who was shot and assassinated while working in Thokoza,a township south of Johannesburg. All this and may be more piled up to execute the tragic end of an enthusiastic photojournalist named Kevin Carter. RIP.
The judgement is left on you as a reader.