Friday, December 4, 2009

The photo that struck your conscience!

The above picture returned to haunt me again via another email chain letter today.

I think most of you would have seen the above photo by now. But did you take the trouble to search for more information? This time I took the trouble to dig deeper, and the first place I went was Wikipedia. This is the story you can read below.

The next place I went was to Hoax Slayer which commented on this email chain letter. The relevant comment follows after the wikipedia article. Please read to the end.

The links to Wikipedia and Hoax Slayer are provided at the end of this post.

This is from Wikipedia:

Kevin Carter (September 13, 1960 in Johannesburg – July 27, 1994) was an award-winning South African photojournalist and member of the Bang-Bang Club.

Carter had started to work as weekend sports photographer in 1983. In 1984 he moved on to work for the Johannesburg Star, bent on exposing the brutality of apartheid.

Carter was the first to photograph a public execution by "necklacing" in South Africa in the mid-1980s. He later spoke of the images; "I was appalled at what they were doing. I was appalled at what I was 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."

Prize-winning photograph in Sudan
In March 1993 Carter made a trip to southern Sudan. The sound of soft, high-pitched whimpering near the village of Ayod attracted Carter to an emaciated Sudanese toddler. The girl had stopped to rest while struggling to a feeding center, whereupon a vulture had landed nearby. He said that he waited about 20 minutes, hoping that the vulture would spread its wings. It didn't. Carter snapped the haunting photograph and chased the vulture away [2]. However, he also came under heavy criticism for just photographing — and not helping — the little girl:

The St. Petersburg Times in Florida said this of Carter: "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."[3]
The photograph was sold to The New York Times where it appeared for the first time on March 26, 1993. Practically overnight hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask whether the child had survived, leading the newspaper to run a special editor's note saying the girl had enough strength to walk away from the vulture, but that her ultimate fate was unknown.

On April 2, 1994 Nancy Buirski, a foreign New York Times picture editor, phoned Carter to inform him he had won the most coveted prize for photojournalism. Carter was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography on May 23, 1994 at Columbia University's Low Memorial Library.

Alternative account of the photograph
South African photojournalist Joao Silva, who accompanied Carter to Sudan, gave a different version of events in an interview with Japanese journalist and writer Akio Fujiwara that was published in Fujiwara's book The Boy who Became a Postcard (絵葉書にされた少年 - Ehagaki ni sareta shōnen).

According to Silva, they (Carter and Silva) went to Sudan with the United Nations aboard Operation Lifeline Sudan and landed in Southern Sudan on March 11, 1993. The UN told them that they would take off again in 30 minutes (the time necessary to distribute food), so they ran around looking to take shots. The UN started to distribute corn and the women of the village came out of their wooden huts to meet the plane. Silva went looking for guerrilla fighters, while Carter strayed no more than a few dozen feet from the plane.

Again according to Silva, Carter was quite shocked as it was the first time that he had seen a famine situation and so he took many shots of the children suffering from famine. Silva also started to take photos of children on the ground as if crying, which were not published. The parents of the children were busy taking food from the plane so they had left their children only briefly while they collected the food. This was the situation for the girl in the photo taken by Carter. A vulture landed behind the girl. To get the two in focus, Carter approached the scene very slowly so as not to scare the vulture away and took a photo from approximately 10 metres. He took a few more photos and then the vulture flew off.

[edit] Death
On 27 July 1994 Carter drove to the Braamfonteinspruit river, 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 passenger-side window. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the age of 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."


And this is from Hoax Slayer:

The chain email content:
Subject: How lucky are we reminder

As sad as this is it makes you grateful and appreciative of the way we live and the things we have. It just proves no matter how bad things seem there is always someone suffering more than we will ever know.

Have a close look at both of the photographs & read the messages below them. Forwarding this message to as many people as you can won't fulfil a wish; nor deleting it will cause any misfortune; but its our moral duty to be concerned...towards humanity

Commentary:(by Hoax Slayer)
This email chain letter contains a very disturbing photograph of a starving child being stalked by a vulture. As the message states, the photograph won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1994 for the photographer, Kevin Carter. Carter took the photograph during a trip to the Sudan in 1993.

The incredibly powerful image graphically illustrates the terrible plight of those inflicted by desperate poverty. Even the most hard-hearted individual is likely to be affected by the photograph. For most people, there is an instinctive desire to somehow reach out and rescue the child from her terrible situation. Thus, it is not surprising that the photograph won such a prestigious award.

After the photograph was published in the New York Times, it became world famous and helped to raise awareness of global poverty. However, Carter was roundly condemned for taking the photograph and leaving the scene rather than actually helping the child. What happened to the child after Carter left is unknown. An entry about Carter's life on BBC – h2g2 explains the circumstances in which the photograph was taken.

A soft whimpering sound caught his attention. It was a pitiful, animal-like sound. He moved towards it until he found the source. A young African girl was crawling weakly towards the centre of a clearing. She didn't have the energy to stand and, emaciated, stood little chance of survival. If the plight of this little girl couldn't stir the world into action nothing would, as Carter knew instinctively and immediately. He crouched with his camera, ready to frame an eye-level shot. As he did so, a vulture landed behind her, obviously awaiting the moment of death. He carefully framed the photograph, being careful not to disturb the bird, and clicked. He waited about 20 minutes, waiting for the bird to fly off, and when it didn't, he chased it away.

Carter sat under a tree, watched her struggle for a while, smoked a cigarette and 'talked to God'. He did not help the girl. Utterly depressed, he went back to Silva and explained what had happened, wiping his eyes and saying 'I see all this, and all I can think of is Megan. I can't wait to hug her when I get home.
At the time that Carter took the photograph, he was a deeply troubled man, haunted by the things he had seen during his career, plagued by personal problems, and battling a drug habit. Only months after receiving the Pulitzer, Kevin Carter took his own life.

Although the core claims in the email are factual, there are also some inaccuracies. Firstly, the photograph was taken in 1993, not 1994 as stated in the email. The Pulitzer Prize itself was awarded in 1994. Secondly, the supposed diary entry recorded in the message is not genuine. The words were not written by Kevin Carter and were apparently added to the message to create extra impact – an entirely unnecessary lie given the power of the photograph itself. The fact that the "diary entry" refers to a "little boy" when the child in the photograph is female exposes the quote as bogus.

A detailed article about the life of Kevin Carter is available on BBC – h2g2. An award winning documentary by filmmaker Dan Krauss, The Death of Kevin Carter also examines the photojournalist's troubled life and career.


Link to Wikipedia click HERE:

Link to Hoax Slayer click HERE:

Incidentally, I have posted a video a long time ago with a clip of this same picture. If you are interested click: "Counting our blessings" .


stephen said...

Justin,please indulge me,how do you explain the suffering in this world? We have people who seem to lead a charmed life,everything is smooth sailing,food is plentiful and they are able to satisfy their needs with luxuries and the good life.Then... we have some who are born to poverty,strife,famine,war and poor health where their life is nothing but tragic suffering.How does all this fit with the tenets of buddhism?I am lost to come up with an explanation.Tks.

Justin Choo said...

Hi Stephen,

This is not the place to answer your question; but since you asked the direct answer is Kamma (or karma).

Please visit my other blog. You can find the link on the right column of this blog. Over there you can click the link to ask me the question via ""


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