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Kevin Carter
March 5, 2006 9:56 AM   Subscribe

"I am zooming in on a tight shot of the dead guy and a splash of red. Going into his khaki uniform in a pool of blood in the sand. The dead man's face is slightly gray. You are making a visual here. But inside something is screaming, "My God.' But it is time to work. Deal with the rest later. If you can't do it, get out of the game." Just two months after winning the Pulitzer Prize, South African photojournalist Kevin Carter, a member of the Bang Bang Club, a group of four incredibly brave apartheid-era South African photojournalists, got out. A film about his life and death is nominated for an Oscar.
posted by biscotti (29 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

posted by Plinko at 10:02 AM on March 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hi time magazine hi pulitzer prize
Tribal scars in technicolor
Bang bang club ak 47 hour

Kevin carter

Hi time magazine hi pulitzer prize
Vulture stalked white piped lie forever
Wasted your life in black and white

Kevin carter x3

The elephant is so ugly he sleeps his head
Machetes his bed kevin carter kaffir lover forever
Click click click click click
Click himself under

Kevin carter x3

Not many photographers get a hagiographical song written by Wales's finest.
posted by dash_slot- at 10:16 AM on March 5, 2006

Exactly Plinko. I'm reading that right now. I meant to include a link to that as well, but figured I had enough in there.
posted by biscotti at 10:17 AM on March 5, 2006

click click click click click
click himself under
posted by kowalski at 10:20 AM on March 5, 2006

on post, dash slot sings faster.
posted by kowalski at 10:21 AM on March 5, 2006

Even some of Carter's friends wondered aloud why he had not helped the girl.

So do I.
posted by languagehat at 11:03 AM on March 5, 2006

So do I.

posted by dejah420 at 11:40 AM on March 5, 2006

he chased the bird away and watched as the little girl resumed her struggle.

You do have to wonder.
posted by deep_cover at 11:52 AM on March 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

There's also a book by the two surviving members.
posted by PenDevil at 11:55 AM on March 5, 2006

From the Wikipedia Kevin Carter page:
He later confided to friends that he wished he had intervened and helped the child. Journalists at the time were warned never to touch famine victims for fear of disease.

I can understand why he took his decisions not to pick up the little girl, but common humanity would tell most people to intervene.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:21 PM on March 5, 2006

First, there was the horror of having witnessed murder. Perhaps as importantly, while a few colleagues had framed the scene perfectly, Carter was reloading his camera with film just as the executions took place. "I knew I had missed this f--- shot," he said subsequently.

Man, do I know how that feels. You plan, you prepare, and you shoot your load before the decisive moment, thinking there won't be a decisive moment and you better make the most of it. Then it comes, and you missed it. That's why I fucking hate film.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:24 PM on March 5, 2006

Can somebody enlighten me? I always thought that the Pulitzer prizes were strictly American - for US publications, jounalism, fiction, poetry and music. But Kevin Carter appears to be South African covering South Africa.
posted by donfactor at 12:34 PM on March 5, 2006

8. Must I be a U.S. citizen to apply for a Pulitzer Prize?
Only U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for the Prizes in Letters, Drama and Music (with the exception of the History category in Letters where the book must be a history of the United States but the author may be of any nationality). For the Journalism competition, entrants may be of any nationality but work must have appeared in a U.S. newspaper published at least once a week.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:42 PM on March 5, 2006

I just saw that vulture picture in all its enormous glory as part of an enhibition of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos. It has been haunting me since, as has the story of Kevin Carter.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:06 PM on March 5, 2006

As to the folks who wondered about helping the girl, I can only shake my head.

It wasn't his mission. His mission was to take photographs. In the process of doing his job he was able to raise global awareness about a signifcant problem.

As soon as journalists cross over into participants, how do they do their job? How could they ever sleep at night with so much desperation all around them?

But, in the end, Kevin Carter couldn't distance himself from his subjects....

Lastly, it's too easy for those of us sitting in cushy chairs to question his actions.
posted by szg8 at 2:53 PM on March 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

People look at the photo and think that Carter came across one lone, starving child. In countries with a moving refugee population, countries at war, or experiencing drought and famine, the starving fill the roads, die in the roads and the bush. They're everywhere.
posted by onegreeneye at 3:14 PM on March 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yep. If I remember correctly, at the nearbye famine relief section there were dozens of people dying every hour. Had he brought the girl to the center, it would probably not have helped her.

Nonetheless, it's impossible not to want that little girl's last moments on earth to have been an experience of compassion, rather than bewilderment and abandonment.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:28 PM on March 5, 2006

As to the folks who wondered about helping the girl, I can only shake my head.
It wasn't his mission. His mission was to take photographs.

You know, there are ways to make points and ways not to make points. You have an important point to make, but the way you make it brings two thoughts to mind (however unfairly): Photographers are assholes and I vas chust following orders.

Seriously, "It wasn't his mission"? Since when is being human not anyone's mission?
posted by languagehat at 5:03 PM on March 5, 2006

From the Jan-Feb 1999 American Journalism Review article, Confronting The Horror:
"The pain of his mission, to open the eyes of the world to so many of the issues and injustices that tore at his own soul, eventually got to him,' his sister wrote in a letter to Time magazine. Carter's father told the South African Press Association that "Kevin always carried around the horror of the work he did.'
James Nachtwey, a photographer for Magnum photo agency who often saw Carter on assignments, was quoted as saying: "Every photographer who has been involved in these stories [of extreme human suffering] has been affected. You become changed forever. Nobody does this kind of work to make themselves feel good. It is very hard to continue.'
But our eyes are never satisfied, and photographers must continue to feed them.
posted by cenoxo at 6:03 PM on March 5, 2006

Since when is being human not anyone's mission?

As trite as language can get.
posted by semmi at 7:02 PM on March 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Since when is being human not anyone's mission?

Ugh. His mission is to be a witness and record the events for the rest of us who can't be there, either because of geography or time.

This is the thing people don't understand about photography: anyone can take a picture, but good photographers know great pictures are made. Ever wonder why most glamour shots are taken with telephotos? Ever wonder why most architectural shots are taken with tilt-shift lenses? Ever wonder why no one takes landscape shots at high-noon, but instead waits until sunrise or sunset? It's because if you want to get a really good shot, you have to remember that the people who are going to be looking at it aren't there to experience it. So all the subtleties, the smells and sounds... your audience has none of that. All they have is your vision. And a photograph is a very, very limited vision. So you have to do everything in your power to convey just what it is you see, and not what the camera sees.

If waiting 20 minutes for a vulture to spread its wings means getting a better shot that will get a million more eyes on the page asking, "What's going on here!?" then it's a fair compromise to make in my mind.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:23 PM on March 5, 2006 [2 favorites]

Picking up and carrying that one child would have been similar to carrying a drop of water to stem a sea. He took the photo, according to various accounts, after stepping away from the throngs of starving to get some respite in the bush. Carrying that one child, he'd have passed many, many more, stepping over them on the road to a feeding center. The whole sentiment reminds me of the folks who give the homeless a dollar at Christmas time. No one knows what he may or may not have done to ease the suffering or assist any number of people before this incident, yet he's lambasted for not helping the one in particular who - by virtue of his photo - touches us more than the faceless thousands in the same situation.
posted by onegreeneye at 8:58 PM on March 5, 2006

As trite as language can get.

I think you made a mistake -- you must have meant to quote this rather than my question: It wasn't his mission. Because I was just quoting that language. Don't shoot the messenger.

Ugh. His mission is to be a witness and record the events for the rest of us who can't be there, either because of geography or time.

So if you've got another job to do, you're excused from being human. Gotcha.

If waiting 20 minutes for a vulture to spread its wings means getting a better shot that will get a million more eyes on the page asking, "What's going on here!?" then it's a fair compromise to make in my mind.

Mine too. Walking away after you've got your picture and leaving her to certain death, on the other hand, isn't. Yes, she might well have died anyway, and yes, there were a zillion other people lying around dying, and yes, people are starving in Asia, but that was one specific little girl (on whose back he got his Pulitzer, if you want to get snarky about it) and he left her to die. If you're going to take the "hey, there's trouble everywhere and you can't fix it all" line, then why should anyone ever do anything to help anyone?

Look, I'm not saying he was a bad man. I'm fully aware of the difficulty of his job and I respect those who do it as well as he did. But it carries certain inherent moral dilemmas that are not solved, in fact are brought into heightened clarity, by would-be defenders who proclaim "That wasn't his job." That dead little girl demands a little more respect, dontcha think? Or was her entire life just a buildup to her moment in the spotlight? "I can die happy now, I'm going to be on the cover of Time!"

Some things don't have easy answers.
posted by languagehat at 5:24 AM on March 6, 2006

You know, languagehat, Carter struggled with guilt over not having helped the child for the rest of his life, and that guilt may have contributed to his suicide. He wasn't cycnical about the undertaking -- after shooing away the bird, he went and sat under a tree and wept bitterly. Years later Carter confessed to friends that he felt he should have helped the child.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:50 AM on March 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

I know, and I'm not blaming Carter, I'm blaming the people who are too quick to absolve him with "it wasn't his job." They should think about the facts you mention and do him the honor of assuming he wasn't just self-flagellating for the hell of it. We all make mistakes, some of them irreparable; I'm just glad I've never been in the position to make one like that.
posted by languagehat at 6:09 AM on March 6, 2006

So he should have helped her, and not the 50 other children he would have had to pass carrying the one in the photo to the feeding center? Suffering is only real when a child's photo touches us? And he should have carried every child, while it's ok to keep eating your Big Mac channel surfing at night past dozens of other kids in the same straights on TV begging for your money in aid? I think it's amazing that he did what he did to help, by bringing the issue to a wide audience, and am amazed instead that folks throw stones when touched by such a photo, rather than being inspired to help. He WAS helping. What are the stone throwers doing? Visit an impoverished nation or two. Then come home and tell me which children you should have rescued, and which you should have left in the street, in countries where the cost of your dinner out, your wrist watch, or hair cut, or lipstick for heaven's sake, would feed a family for a month. I think it's easy to cast stones when touched by a photo, and to ignore the fact that throngs exist who have not died, and are in fact in dire straights at this moment, more girls with more vultures waiting, outside the picture frame who could be helped significantly by the cost of your internet connection bill for 1 month. Think about that while throwing stones in that glass house. Why didn't he do something? He did. What have you done?
posted by onegreeneye at 11:34 AM on March 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

From the article: "Friends said Mr Carter was a man of tumultuous emotions which brought passion to his work but also drove him to extremes of elation and depression. Last year, saying he needed a break from South Africa's turmoil, he paid his own way to the southern Sudan to photograph a civil war and famine that he felt the world was overlooking."

This man is a hero. If you feel he should have done more, then how much more could you yourself not have done?
posted by spazzm at 5:10 PM on March 6, 2006

Nicely said, onegreeneye.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:47 PM on March 6, 2006

Wow, a lot of illiteracy here. For the hard-of-reading, once more in bold type: I'm not blaming Carter.

I do, however, think some of you are self-righteous twits who get off on taking Strong Moral Stands on MetaFilter -- which is especially funny when they involve treating a guy who takes pictures as the Savior of Mankind. OK, OK, I'll go set up a shrine to Saint Carter; happy now?
posted by languagehat at 5:24 AM on March 7, 2006

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