My Best Shot

The heartwrench­ing story be­hind Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer-Prize-win­ning photo

NPhoto - - Contents - Keith Wil­son

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.

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