My Best Shot
The heartwrenching story behind Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo
Famine has been a curse to the lives of many Africans, and in early 1993 Sudan was in the grip of both civil war and famine. Aid agencies were soon on the ground setting up shelters and feeding stations, but for many it was too late. A famine relief camp in the village of Ayod became the focus of the world’s media, and a South African photographer, Kevin Carter, and his Portuguese colleague, João Silva, flew in from Johannesburg on the morning of 11 March.
Immediately after their plane touched down Carter and Silva began photographing. Here, relief workers estimated people were dying at a rate of 15 per hour. While taking a break from the enormity of the scenes of mass starvation, Carter wandered into the open bush, only to be confronted with another harrowing sight. He heard a whimper, then saw a tiny girl struggling as she made her way to the feeding station. Vultures were ever-present around Ayod and one flew into view as Carter crouched to photograph the lone child.
Recalling the scene years later, Silva says Carter approached the bird slowly and positioned himself to include it in the background, waiting for the bird to spread its wings. It didn’t, so he took his picture and chased it away. Controversially, the little girl was left to resume her struggle and her fate remained unknown. Afterwards, Carter sat under a tree, lit a cigarette and cried. “He was depressed afterward,” Silva recalls. “He kept saying he wanted to hug his daughter.”
Carter returned to Johannesburg a couple of days later, where he worked for the Weekly Mail, unaware that the picture he took in Ayod would soon appear in every major newspaper and news magazine around the world. However, it would also result in controversy, causing many people to question his actions at the scene.
The reaction Almost immediately after its publication in the New York
Times on 26 March 1993, the paper received hundreds of letters from the public wanting to know what happened to the girl. The paper replied that her fate was unknown. Some readers criticised Carter for not helping her. Nevertheless, the photograph quickly became a symbol of Africa’s plight.
Just over a year later, on 12 April 1994, the New York
Times phoned Carter to say he had won the Pulitzer Prize, the highest accolade in US journalism. Carter’s euphoria at his success lasted less than a week: on 18 April, his fellow photographer and friend Ken Oosterbroek died from a bullet wound while covering township violence near Johannesburg. Carter, who had a history of depression, went into freefall. On 27 July, 1994, he taped a hose to his car exhaust pipe, ran it into the window and turned on the engine. He was 33.