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Kevin Carter Pulitzer Prize Photograph

by Brett M. Christensen

Email with a disturbing image of a starving child being shadowed by a vulture claims that the photograph won a Pulitzer Prize for Photojournalist, Kevin Carter.

Brief Analysis:
It is true that Kevin Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for his famous photograph. It is also true that Carter left the scene after taking the photograph without helping the child. However, it is too simplistic to suggest that he committed suicide as a direct result of his experience with this child as implied in the message. It is also unfair to judge his actions without having some understanding of the man’s state of mind along with the terrible conditions in Sudan at the time the photograph was taken.

Subject: How lucky are we reminderAs 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

” PULITZER PRIZE ” winning photo taken in 1994 during the Sudan famine.

The picture depicts a famine stricken child crawling towards an United Nations food camp, located a kilometer away.

The vulture is waiting for the child to die so that it can eat it. This picture shocked the whole world. No one knows what happened to the child, including the photographer Kevin Carter who left the place as soon as the photograph was taken.

Three months later he committed suicide due to depression.

This was found in his diary,

Dear God, I promise I will never waste my food no matter how bad it can taste and how full I may be. I pray that He will protect this little boy, guide and deliver him away from his misery. I pray that we will be more sensitive towards the world around us and not be blinded by our own selfish nature and interests. I hope this picture will always serve as a reminder to us that how fortunate we are and that we must never ever take things for granted.

Please don’t break.. keep on forwarding to our friends on this good day.. Let’s make a prayer for the suffering in anywhere any place around the globe and send this friendly reminder to others; think & look at this…when you complain about your food and the food we waste daily………

Detailed Analysis:
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. An entry about Carter’s life on BBC – h2g2 notes:

Meanwhile, the New York Times, looking for photographs of the Sudan famine, bought Carter’s shot and ran it on 23 March. The newspaper was swamped with letters and telephone calls, many asking what had happened to the child. Within days, the photograph was a global icon. Syndicated around the world, it was an image that was worth a thousand telethons. However, Carter faced fierce criticism for abandoning the child.

What happened to the child after Carter left is unknown. The BBC – h2g2 article goes on to explain 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. Thus, it is too simplistic to suggest that he committed suicide as a direct result of his experience with this child as implied in the message.

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.

Last updated: 26th May 2010
First published: 22Jan 2008
By Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography
Kevin Carter – Photojournalist
The Death of Kevin Carter

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