• Saturday, December 20, 2014

Freedom in the air

Vulture On The Scene!

One morning in May 1993.

Nancy Buirski was working as the foreign picture editor at the New York Times. She was looking for a photo to illustrate a story about Sudan for the next day's paper. She phoned Marinovich in South Africa. Marinovich referred her to colleague Kevin Carter who had just returned from Sudan. Buirski convinced Kevin to send her some pictures via the Associated Press in Johannesburg.

“When the picture did arrive, my hands just shook. It came over the machine and it came out of my hands and I thought… Oh my god this is incredible,” Buirski said. She took the photograph to photo editor Nancy Lee, who was preparing to attend the daily page-one meeting.

The paper decided to play the photo on pagethree with the Foreign Report.

The New York Times ran it for the first time on March 26, 1993 as the “metaphor for Africa's despair”.

 The next morning, recalled Buirski, “we got many calls about whether or not the photographer had helped the child."

Practically overnight hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask whether the child had survived, leading the newspaper to run an unusual special editor's note.

A picture last Friday with an article about Sudan showed a little Sudanese girl who had collapsed from hunger on the trail to a feeding centre in Ayod. A vulture lurked behind her. Many readers have asked about the fate of the girl. The photographer reports that she recovered enough to resume her trek after the vulture was chased away. It is not known whether she reached the centre.

Because of this, Kevin was bombarded with questions about why he did not help the girl, and only used her to take a photograph. 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."

This picture won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. Three months after receiving the price, Kevin committed suicide.

Filmmaker Dan Krauss said, "In his famous picture of the vulture stalking the Sudanese girl, I began to see the embodiment of his troubled psyche. I believe Kevin did, too. In the starving child, he saw Africa's suffering; in the preying vulture, he saw his own face."

“It is a photograph of a vulture praying on suffering and Kevin saw himself in that same role, that he was praying on suffering,” Krauss said.

“I don't think enough people are apathetic with the experience of journalists. In fact it's usually the opposite, most people are angry, or vitriolic, or completely unsympathetic with journalists and the decisions that journalists make.”

In 1994, Kevin said in NHK Television Interview, “It may be difficult for people to understand, but as a photojournalist my first instinct was to make the photograph. As soon as that job was done and the child moved on… I felt completely devastated. I think I tried to pray…I tried to talk to god, to assure him If he got me out of this place… I would always… I would change my life…”

Kevin often expressed regret that he had not done anything to help the girl, even though there was not much that he could have done, in all actuality. Besides, he was working in a time when photojournalists were told not to touch famine victims for fear of spreading disease.

However, the question -- whether journalists should be witnesses or participants – is still being asked.

The photograph continues to spark debates among journalists. At the same time, it endures as an indelible symbol of the famine and suffering and as a call to action to the rest of the world.

If it weren't for that photo, one of his colleagues notes, “we wouldn't know how to spell Sudan.”

Published: 12:00 am Friday, August 15, 2014

Last modified: 11:07 pm Thursday, August 14, 2014

Leave your comments | Comment Policy
eDaily Star