Behind the camera: Kevin Carter
Where: Ayod, Sudan (Now South Sudan)
Photo Summary: Young Sudanese girl crawling to the food station
Picture Taken: March 1993
In March of 1993 the combination of civil war, drought had created famine conditions throughout Southern Sudan. Reporting on the starving people Kevin Carter and other journalists flew into Ayod, Sudan (Now in the newly created country of South Sudan) where he took this famous picture of a young Sudanese girl crawling to the food station. For the image he won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Feature Photography.
Taking the image
In 1983 the East African Famine had struck the whole region leaving millions starving in Africa. Carter was anxious to cover the event and took a leave of absence from his newspaper job and borrowed money to pay for the flight. At Ayod, Sudan a small village that became a food aid station, starving people from hundreds of kilometers away staggered into the camp to get food but were still dying at an incredible rate of twenty an hour. Seeing such horror Carter went out into the open bush outside the camp where he heard a whimper and walking towards the sound found the young girl resting on the ground. A vulture settled down nearby and Carter waited twenty minutes hoping it would spread its wings allowing him to snap a better picture. When the bird didn’t comply he snapped the now infamous shot and then shooed away the vulture. Distraught at not being able to help any of the people at Ayod he sat under a tree and cried in despair.
Returning from Ayod Carter was able to sell the image to the New York Times who published it on March 26, 1993. Almost immediately people phoned and wrote to the newspaper asking about the fate of the small girl. When it was learned that the journalist didn’t help the girl and that her fate was unknown people accused him of exploiting the desperate scene even though at the briefing in Sudan the journalists were warned that touching any of the famine victims was strictly forbidden. American papers like the St. Petersburg (The Florida city) Times slammed Carter saying “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.” Carter took the criticism harshly and spiralled into depression and drug use.
Carter was born in 1960 in South Africa during the height of apartheid. As a child, he saw how the injustice at how the state dealt with blacks and became outraged. He got a job as a photographer and quickly made a name for himself when he took a number of pictures of the anti-apartheid demonstrations and violent incidents in South Africa. He quickly fell into a group of like-minded individuals and “They put themselves in face of danger, were arrested numerous times, but never quit. They literally were willing to sacrifice themselves for what they believed in,” says American photojournalist James Nachtwey, who often worked with Carter and his group of friends.
Travelling in groups for safety Carter and his three friends Ken Oosterbroek, Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva covered the intense violence of the country as groups vied for power and fought the apartheid state. They became infamous for getting in the thick of things and were known as the The Bang-Bang Club
Carter had a number of pictures published but what he was seeing in the violence of the townships was affecting his mental stability. He resorted to drugs to dull the pain and to forget the horrors he saw. He found a brief respite after winning the 1994 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Feature Photography and was headhunted by the prestigious photo agencies but after a number of bungled assignments, the death of Bang Bang member Ken Oosterbroek and mounting debts he became even more depressed and despondent. On Wednesday, July 27, 1994, Carter drove his vehicle to his childhood neighborhood ran a hose from the exhaust to the cab and killed himself via carbon monoxide poisoning. His suicide note wrote that he was “depressed . . . without phone . . . money for rent . . . money for child support . . . money for debts . . . money!!! . . . I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain . . . of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners . . . ” And then this: “I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.”