|Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph|
In March 1993, while on a trip to Sudan, Carter was preparing to photograph a starving toddler trying to reach a feeding center when a hooded vulture landed nearby. Carter reported taking the picture, because it was his “job title”, and leaving.
Sold to the New York Times, the photograph first appeared on 26 March 1993 and was carried in many other newspapers around the world. Hundreds of people contacted the Times to ask the fate of the girl. The paper reported that it was unknown whether she had managed to reach the feeding center. On May 23, 14 months after capturing that memorable scene, Carter walked up to the platform in the classical rotunda of Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library and received the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography.
With the success of the image came a lot of controversy, and questions were raised about the ethics of taking such a photograph. An article printed in 1994 in the St Petersberg Times commented on the morality of Carters actions, ‘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,’ (Stamets cited in Ricchiardi, 1999).
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) have a ‘Code of Ethics’ which sets out certain ethical responsibilities when carrying out journalistic work, one reads as thus, ‘while photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events’ (NPPA, 2010). Considering this, one can say Carter was objective and documented what he saw, capturing the severity of the situation in Sudan. But does this alleviate him from the responsibilities of being a good human being?
On 27 July 1994 Carter drove his way to the Braamfonte near the Field and Study Centre, an area where he used to play as a child, and took his own life by taping one end of a hose to his pickup truck’s exhaust pipe and running the other end to the driver’s side window. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning, aged 33. Portions of Carter’s suicide note read:
“I am 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.”
Carter’s story is depicted in the 2010 feature film, The Bang-Bang-Club in which he was played by Taylor Kitsch.