Monday, August 29, 2011

Lessons from the life of Kevin Carter

Photograph by Kevin Carter 1994
Fifteen years ago, this picture won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. The pathos of the scene remains a poignant reminder to all of us well-fed and comfortable people that the world many other people live in is a completely different place from ours. Taken by world-renowned photographer, Kevin Carter, in 1993, during the civil war in famine-stricken Sudan, it clearly tells the story of the terrible deprivation that men, women and children are faced with in different parts of our world. Mr. Carter, a free-lance photographer, who had flown in with a UN team to the rebel area, was waiting while the team distributed the food packages they had brought with them before moving on to their ultimate destination. He saw the child waiting a little distance from the distribution area, probably left there by the parents while they went to collect the food. As he was watching the child crawl towards the crowd, he noticed the vulture alight nearby. He said he waited about 20 minutes for the vulture to spread its wings, but finally shooed it away. Unfortunately, he could wait no longer and leaving the girl where she was, he continued onwards with the team. 

Mr. Carter will be long remembered for this heart-wrenching image. He had the world of journalism at his feet when he collected his Pulitzer. But merely 2 months later, he was dead at age 33. He had committed suicide by running the smoke from his exhaust back into his car. The world was shocked that a man who had so much before him had opted out of life in this manner. It is said that the grief of the many sordid scenes he had photographed, from the famines and civil wars of Africa to the apartheid repression of his native South Africa, as well as the death of a dear photo-journalist friend while on assignment, had been too much for him to bear. Kevin Carter, the man whose picture shocked the world and has continued to do so for 15 years, feeling that he did not and could not do anything, chose to end it all.

Nothing much has changed today. Poverty, famine, homelessness, disease. These and many other scourges are part of the daily life of many citizens of our world. I just need to walk out on the road with my eyes open, to see the little boy ferreting in the dustbin, the lady with a child at the traffic signal, begging for money from people who do not even bother (or are too ashamed) to look at her face, the elderly cycle-rickshaw driver, who is not really fit to even walk, let alone transport people on his rickshaw, but knows that the money he brings in every day is what keeps 4 people alive, the many, many people for whom the medical care I provide is far too expensive to ever avail of, the hundreds and thousands who die because doctors are unwilling to treat them. I can chose to opt out of my responsibility to these people and to my world. There are many excuses that pop into my mind before I even start thinking about them. But therein lies the danger. I may not take the extreme step like Kevin Carter. But I am doing the same thing that he did, in my own way. By choosing to hide behind my excuses. And my life will be the poorer for it.....


  1. There is only so much you can do.It's important to know what it is you are called to do and do it well...never forgetting to take time to get back to the centre and heal..!

  2. The fact that you've decided to write about this says that you are not hiding behind excuses.

  3. This picture made me join MSF : though Carter was accused of not doing anything then, he did manage to inspire people like me!