kevin carter and the photo that made the world weep

there is a very real ethical dimension to photography which i feel is too often neglected by people behind the lens. i am not just talking about media photographers. i am talking about anyone who has a camera in general.

this photograph showing a starving sudanese child being stalked by a vulture won kevin carter the 1994 pulitzer prize for feature photography. the photograph, raised a lot of money for relief agencies. the photographer, on the other hand, came under very heavy criticism by the public and agencies alike. in a time and place where 20 people die of starvation every hour, could the photographer have done something to save the child?

the photograph was taken in march 1993 near the village of ayod in sudan. according to time, the photographer heard a whimpering which attracted him to the toddler who was on her way to a feeding center. she had stopped to rest when a vulture landed nearby. the photographer had waited 20 minutes for the vulture to spread its wings, but it did not. so he shot this photo before chasing the vulture away.

this photo was first published in the new york times on 26 march 1993.

the criticism which falls photographers is obvious. our commitment to our job versus our moral obligations. is some way or another, we are sometimes faced with the dilemma of helping or photographing.

according to the national association of press photographers (america), it is a good idea to think about these issues in advance because when the hour comes, it will come suddenly and we will be asked to make a choice quickly. maybe it won’t be famine. but it might be an accident or a fire. would you be the one who captured the explosion of the fire, or be the one to rescue the victims of the accident?

i personally believe in moral obligations. but that is not for you to agree with, but for you to make up your own mind. in defense of kevin carter, the photo he took did raise public consciousness of the famine conditions of sudan. but that is his contribution to the world. the weight and responsibility towards what he owed the child would be something he carried in his soul for he rest of his life.

several months after receiving the pulitzer for the photo that made the world weep, kevin carter returned to africa, where he committed suicide.

at what point do you put the camera down and help? at what point does your humanity become more important than your journalism?

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47 thoughts on “kevin carter and the photo that made the world weep

  1. yar..i know about this..it’s quite a story.then apparently he committed suicide because he was so haunted by this…..or depression.

  2. tihtahpah: it is a combination of both, i think. the suicide was just months after receiving the pulitzer. he is not the first and won’t be the last photographer to do this.

    aw: you’re right, we aren’t. but we need to judge ourselves for what we would have done given the same situation.

    bengbeng: that is the same reaction the photo received by thousands of people worldwide. the emotions invoked by the photo is what makes the photo special… and controversial.

  3. I’ve seen this picture earlier somewhere (I’ve forgotten) but I didn’t know that the photographer actually went back to Africa and committed suicide!! Oh my..

  4. I see nothing wrong with taking the picture. He ran off the vulture and I am sure he helped the child get food. He raised money for the starving with the picture and went back to Africa. You people make him committee suicide by telling him what a bad person he was and he believed you.
    I do believe a photographer has an ethical obligation to help. At a certain point they should put down the camera and do something. But they should not be criticized for taking the picture first unless it harms someone.

  5. How do images like this not shake us to our very souls? After seeing the hunger and the death in Africa I believe every man woman and child would have to rethink every bit of themselves and what they have/have not in their lives. Who are we, in many cases, fat Americans/Europeans who have all the comforts of family and home that these dying children will never know even once in their lives!? We were born with all, they were born to suffer and die?
    I’m going to stand on my soap box and say … this is why christian groups should spread education about birth control and alternate ways to grow food … not bibles and grewl kitchens! These are children who are born to nothing. Some reproductive education and hydroponic plant growth could help these people beyond all the money these christian groups steal to push their religion. It’s just evil .. and I can imagine this photographer saw these things close up. I weep for every child lost … and for this man. Our humanity seems to be lost in so many ways. Think about that.

  6. this really moved me. i am writing about this image for my thesis which is on the photography of a poverty stricken society.
    i really have respect for kevin carter after taking this picture, as it is a way of notifying people on what they may not know is going on. The same as Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange informs and educates us and might help these people in the future. shame on the people who look down on kevin carter for this. I congratulate him for this difficult achievment

  7. ,,,,apparently Kevin did not help the poor kid !. The pic hunted his soul so much so until he committed suicide.
    Question ,,,,,,what would you have done ?. Easy to comment yaaa BUT really ask youself,,,What have I done to-date to help the helpless !.
    The poor can still survive but the helpless will die if left to themselves.
    Answer ,,,,,,,,just visit your local hospital and see what you can do to help cas. there are many helpless soul there !. Again, trust me,,,,many needs HELP !!!!.

  8. how do you know what kevin did after the phot was taken?, maybe he helped the child? i dont see you doing anything to help by sitting on your computer. raise awareness.

  9. this was featured in National Geographic magazine long ago. Carter told others many time he regretted not saving the child and would go back time to save the child. Apparently he committed suicide because of stress. Nontheless its a great picture, very emotional.

    Come on guys Kevin Carter is already dead. Let him RIP. There’s another photo similar in terms of expression but I forgot who it was. She also committed suicide.

  10. who then pity the poor vulture ?,,,,,nothing else to survive on,,,, but the skinny kid. normally eating zebra-lah or whereinsoever the lion had brought down.
    so little value in life nowadays. killing, murder, rape ,,,you name it. war everywhere,,,life so cheap, no meaning whatsoever, who strong win. poor kid,,,poor vulture. who really cares for crying out loud ?. bUT we all should. be human again,,,,CARE,,,LOVE,,,FORGIVE.

  11. i think it an important aspect we should all consider is what hypocrites we all are, there is suffering in Africa, and suffering in Palestine, and suffering in countless tiny forgetten corners all over the world, some caused by circumstance, but most caused by elected tyrants and multimillion dollar corporations who have no regard for anything but money and power. indeed, even the medical and pharmeceutical industries have sold their souls for money and power!
    we all are quick to work ourselves into a froth of emotion about a photograph of just one tiny tragedy that occurs along with how many thousands of others on any given day…and yet the sun goes down each night and nothing changes, no one challenges the tyrants or demands they stop, no one quits their jobs and flies off to somewhere where people need them, no one really DOES a god damned thing except fling their ill-thought out opinions and irrational conclusions at anything they can target, the internet mostly. and when the sun comes up tomorrow, we will all suckle our breakfast from the teats of Mammon, & then the whole sick dance begins anew.
    if we are to have any hope of salvaging our humanity, we must realize that complacency and non-confrontation are just as much sins as the ones being commited by all those we are so quick to accuse.
    every time a mother cries for the death of her child, every time a man is made to be so miserable that in desperation for something, anything, to change, blowing himself becomes a good idea to his traumatized mind, everytime wives are told their husbands won’t return from an unjust war we are as much to blame as anyone and the karmic debt is one we will all be made to pay…

  12. I don’t understand. So you mean he took the pic, chased the vulture away and then left the child there?

  13. We should not take anything in life for granted.
    I hope he carried the child to the feeding center.

  14. Kevin Carterlived in Johannesburg South Africa where he later took his own life arter living with depression. the pictre does present questions of morality, as do the works of Joel Peter Witkin who positions Corpses into arb postions in order to create art. I think these pictuers force us to face questions of human dignity and respct. Kevin carter did not help the child to the shelter, but instead wollowed in pity, sat under a tree puffed away on a few cigarettes and weeped. I think we are not allwed to judge, but we are forced to question our values and morals by putting ourselves in his shoe.. so i asl you, What would you have done?? made history through your ‘art’ or made a difference to onr little girls life.

  15. I remember the image well. It would still rate as one of the best images about our indifference to humanity. Carter was responsible for awakening our conscience. The chances are that he would not have been able to save the child even if he had taken her to the nearest aid station. As I understand it , the little girl died within an hour of the photo being taken.

  16. i have promised 2 mah self dat i will neva waste food. i am still thinkin about d picture!! its started 2 haunt me! and i seriously dont know what 2 do. 4 d people who think its a joke!CAN JUST SIMPLY FUK OFFF!!! understand!! u may b d spoilt 1s!
    u get everthing dats y!
    GET LOST!!!

  17. I knew Kevin Carter personally and was always taken aback by his intenseness. We were at that time all pretty tense living in South Africa. The (now tarnishing) miracle was unfolding and Kevin was as chuffed as the rest of us. He did remain somewhat cynical and sceptical (as any good journalist should), but when this disturbing picture became the one to define a time, place and era Kevin could not handle the constant refrain of “but couldn’t you do something”. What astounded us was the level of vehemence at times displayed to him by stupid people. The one that I think really was the last straw was “was the Pullitzer worth her death?” to which Kevin would just stare uncomprehendingly. Then one day Kevin was gone and we were left with memories of an intense friend, a brilliant photographer and a bitter photograph that had stripped us all naked and left a friend and colleague dead.
    This is one of the greatest photographs ever taken.

  18. dear walter,

    thank you for sharing your insights on my blog. i believe that kevin carter’s greatest contribution to the world – for better or worse – is the ethical discussions intrigued by the photograph. ethical discussions whose realities not only make us aware of the state of the world i.e. poverty, famine, war etc, but also how ignorant and quick we are to judge other people.

    this photo reveals that while we are sympathetic over devastations that occur around the world, we tend to unload these emotions onto others. in my opinion, it is because we feel our own helplessness to do anything about the scenario shown to us and blaming others is the easier thing to do.

    instead of asking carter if he could have done something, maybe we should explore our own emotions evoked by this photo: scenes like these play out in the world everyday. can’t we do something about it?

    i echo your sentiments: this is one of the greatest photographs ever taken.

    my heartiest condolences over the loss of your friend.

  19. i would put down my camera the moment i saw that little girl and i would help her i would be sad if she died when i was trying to save her but i would feel horrible if i did not even try to help her and she died

  20. it was good of Kevin to give this pic to the New York Times to print. Irrespective of what caste, creed or colour, we must come together as one and help those in need. Kevin did the right thing by getting this pic published. i kept reading many articles about the same issue to find out if Kevin carried the little child to the feeding centre. Having the strength, that’s the least he could do for that child, taking into consideration that the feeding centre is only a kilometer away.

  21. I believe that Kevin Carter would not have committed suicide had he helped the poor little girl. The constant questions about his morality [he chose to become famous for the picture rather than helping the girl] must have gotten to him and he chose to end his pitiful life. However, he has done some good by raising awareness about the starvation in Ethiopia as well as other parts of the world.
    On another note, the people thinking about the vulture. Is that not zany? to think about the vultures lack of food? Vultures are scavengers, feeding off of dead things. In this case the poor child was alive and seemingly dead because of her lack of food. I think that coorperations like PETA should not be so numerous, and that certainly a starving humans life is more important than an animals. But please, do not judge, that thought it surely true in purpose.
    Also, i think you guys should look into my brothers non-profit wakeupsomalia.org because it focuses on the mainly neglected nation of Somalia.

  22. We cannot judge. We have no right to. The child had a right to live. Kevin had a right to help. We have a right to help. Do you really know the pain of starving? At one time I fasted for 3 days and and 3 nights, no food no water. It was painful. The sight of this pathetically emaciated soul is just tormenting. We have no right to write about who is right and who is wrong in the comfort of our homes and think things will normalize on their own. We have to play our roles. Kevin played his part, the poor child played hers (God bless her, she refused to die without writing a piece of history of her own like what most of you will do) FOR CRYING OUT LOUD STOP COMPLAINING AND START HELPING!

  23. according to his wikipedia entry, this child was with her parent or parents who were getting food at a relief plane, and she was only left alone for a little while. He did not commit suicide due to any guilt over this photo, or not helping the child. He committed suicide, according to his note, because of money worries, and also despair over the suffering and inhumanity he had witnessed in the world. Read his wikipedia entry.

  24. By the way, a follow-up note to Deethrem. I fasted once many years ago for 28 days – 23 days with just water, then 5 days with orange juice. It is not painful. Although the first three days can be uncomfortable because the gastric juices are still flowing, there is no pain, and after three days, it’s not uncomfortable at all and there is no sensation of hunger. As awful as it looks, I don’t believe that starvation is a painful way to die. You just get weaker and more lethargic. Going without food OR water however, is very toxic. If you went without food and water for three days, deethrem, you were suffering from the effects of dehydration, not the effects of fasting.

  25. He wasn’t allowed to touch the child. And we went to get help but when they got there, the child was gone. That’s why he killed himself. he had no idea what happened to the child.

  26. Finds it rich how people are quick to judge the photographer.

    The photographer who as well as witnessing this through his lens, also witnessed it with his own eyes. And did something, through awareness.

    How many of the commenter’s/general population would do this?
    How many of you will sit down to eat and not even consider this child?
    By doing nothing you are the vulture.

  27. hi i m from india. we r doing one play on kevin carter . i m playing the role of kevin. please help me in this regard so as to go as close to him as a character. and it is after this photograph. thanks

  28. we should help people like that all over. Look at ourselves, we live like kings and don’t do stuff for them.

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  30. I’m sad that the photographer committed suicide. I imagine the things he’s seen would make most people go crazy. However, I do find it odd that he waited 20 minutes for a more “dramatic” picture. 20 minutes while a little girl was facing a life and death struggle right before his eyes. I try but I just can’t reconcile that. There doesn’t always have to be a choice, this could be one of the cases where you take the shot, put your camera down, pick her up and give one more lost soul a fighting chance. This is one of the best pictures on Earth.

  31. I always miss shots because I’m too busy helping people. I just can’t concentrate when something bad is happening. In my heart it says to help not to shoot. I guess that makes me a bad photographer but a good samaritan. I wish he would have not killed himself. He did nothing wrong. No one can say what he did. Maybe his heart felt heavy.

  32. No one has ever looked at the big picture. This was taken right next to a feeding center but he just isolated the girl in his photo. He soon after notified the people at the feeding station that she was there.
    Not many people knew that. He was led to feel guilty even though, in sense, he helped the little girl. This picture wasn’t the only reason for his suicide, there were all his other pictures and he just couldn’t handle what he had seen.

  33. and by the way he was a South African Photographer so he didn’t “go back to South Africa” to commit suicide as mentioned earlier (2007)

  34. Kevin was a drug fueled arsewipe…he didn’t help that child and his intentions of taking that picture wasn’t to raise awareness about hunger…It was a time when Kevin was at his lowest, he wasn’t getting any work as a photographer because of his addiction to drugs. People are saying dont judge and what would we do in that situation ? well the answer isn’t that hard… Help the child get to safety, duhh… he committed suicide not because the picture haunted him, he committed suicide because the whole world knew he left that poor child to die. Every time he was interviewed by the tabloids his story changed…i hope Kevin rotts in hell.. one less self indulged dickhead in the world thank goodness….

  35. Yes we should all feel for the child, but this is nature and it happens in daily life, whether Kevin Carter did anything or not it’s not for us to judge him because he was doing his job, some say he helped and others say he didn’t – it’s the past! There’s nothing anyone can do now. We are animals too, we are prey and we are no higher in ranking than any other animal, let’s say you was witnessing a shark attack on someone would you jump in and stop it? It’s fine for you to sit behind a computer screen and say you would but who really would put their life at risk for others… Look at the poor child, surely enough they wouldn’t of survived due to famine and poverty, there must of been a reason Kevin didn’t help (if he didn’t)

  36. Could Kevin Carter save that child? No. There were thousands dying and no cup of rice will bring someone back from imminent death. He saw his greater journalistic purpose and that was to put the responsibility in our laps, because we could not deny what he captured in that image. Kevin Carter was a hero. In a composition class, we are discussing the ethics of the photographer who took the Falling Man photos. He too, as been demonized. WHY? Was his snapshot prurient or voyeuristic? No, he was as horrified as everyone around him. He could not help the masses running towards him, but he documented…and we will never forget. It is too easy to cast blame when you are sitting safe at home. These photojournalists are heroes, as much as the firefighter, or police officer.

  37. Pingback: Photojournalism – A Detrimental Occupation | Journalism by Jabeen Akhter

  38. It’s easy for those sitting in the west or elsewhere in comfortable arm chairs, who have never been to Africa or the Sudan to be critical and pass judgement. But what have they done for the situation aside from criticise? I see this all the time. So many people passing judgement who have never been, done or experienced, nor bothered to help. Just criticise others so they can feel better about themselves or feel more morally correct. Other than take this image, few know what this man may have done to the help people there. And at least he was there and his photo has done far more to bring awareness and help the situation than any of those who choose to criticise.

  39. ABSOLUTELY!! I wrote an essay about Kevin Carter, and other photojournalists who are criticized for their work. I think you are absolutely correct in saying that these photographs stir the conscience and it is easier to criticize than mobilize to do something about it. Had it not been for his photographs in the Sudan, George Bush might not have stepped up to send aid. Kevin Carter could no more save that one child that I could from my computer, but he made the world aware so that together we could save some.

  40. Linda. I have been criticised for many of my photos as well. I am a documentary photographer and photograph what I see. Not just the pretty people and faces on one side of the street but the reality of the hardships on the other side as well. Because I chose to include photographs of the poor and the aflicted, I get criticised. I also belong to a fine nude art photography group and have been criticised because of nudity etc. even street photography for stealing people’s images. I enjoy all types of photography and the fact is people will always be critical, because if you really analyze their lives, they have done little to nothing themselves but criticise, so that they can feel or project that they are more morally correct But if I had to live my photographic life by those who criticise everything I take, I’d be down to taking photos of rainbows. Nothing stirs emotion, like that of a powerful image with an incredible story behind it. And sometimes a tragic story, because that is the world we live in. bradmol@mac.com

  41. Then I commend you Brad. It is an obligation that photojournalists have to document the world as it really is. I lived and worked in Iraq for a year, during the war, and after coming home, I had contempt and disgust for privileged American attitudes. What you do is a service to humanity. Please, NEVER allow shallow attitudes to affect you the way Carter was affected. Thank you for your story. It is very moving. I also wrote about Abbasi, the subway photographer who the public tried to impale for his photograph of Ki Suk Han who died on the tracks. The irony is that there were many people closer to Han who did nothing, but want to point the finger at the photographer. Unfortunately, you are right again…that is the world we live in.

  42. Thank you Linda. It is people like you that motivate me to shoot my images, goto the places the critics would never dare go and to help when and where I can, if I can and that much more because of your words and support. And if my images can stir just one person to give, to help, to volunteer or to donate something, I would have then doubled my efforts with that one person, to bring relief to the people of that region, while the critics just sit back and criticise. And I understand your feelings after coming back from Iraq. I live in SE Asia and see so many more with so little. Then return to NA to listen to and see the privileged. Keep up your support to others and u will have done your part and more then u probably know.

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