At a time of great brutality and racial discrimination, a man stood against all odds to portray the true realities of life. An award winning photojournalist from South Africa, Kevin Carter was born on September 13th, 1960. He was also the member of the Bang Bang Club (associated with four photographers who were active within South Africa between 1990 and 1994). His photograph portraying the Sudan famine in 1993, won him a Pulitzer Prize. The journalist committed suicide at the age of 33 and consequently a feature film, The Bang-Bang Club was produced in 2010, depicting his story.
Kevin Carter was born in Johannesburg and he grew up in a middle class family in an all-white locality. He often saw black people being arrested by police in his area since they were living there illegally. Occasionally, Carter felt awkward with his broad-minded Catholic family’s laid back attitude towards this issue.
After completing high school, he left his further studies to became a pharmacist and joined the Air Force. After four years, he defended a mess-hall waiter from being abused and as a result, Carter was beaten-up by servicemen. So, he left without informing anyone in order to re-start his life as an RJ (radio jockey) named ‘David’.
Later, he witnessed the Church Street Bombing in 1983 in Pretoria and decided to pursue a career in news photography. Initially, he worked as a sports photographer and a year later he started working for Johannesburg Star and exposed the rough treatment given to apartheid. Racial discrimination was infused in the society at the time by the national party from 1948 to 1994. All around, there was affliction and Carter wanted to reflect this misery in his images.
Kevin Carter was the first photographer who shot a public execution of a victim named Maki Skosana, who was accused of being in a relationship with a police officer, by black Africans in 1980s in South Africa. He also photographed other executions at that time, including shootouts. Many a times, Carter is reported to have passed statements on photographing such subjects like dead people, starving children and violent acts. He felt trepidation at times, but then he knew it was his job and he had to do it with an objective eye.
Thirteen years later, he shot his prize winning and heart-wrenching photo in Sudan of a starving child trying to reach for food when a vulture landed close by. The picture was bought by the New York Times, and appeared in March 1993. The photo sparked a series of questions related to the child in the photo, they wanted to know what happened. Later, it was published by many other newspapers worldwide.
Unfortunately, Kevin Carter killed himself by inhaling carbon monoxide in July 1994, when he was 33. A rather short lived photographer, but ambitious and brave towards showing cruelty and famine. He was long exposed to the sufferings of people, something he couldn’t handle anymore. A worth remembering line from his suicide note was that the life’s pain supersedes joyfulness to the point that joy doesn’t exist, and with this final thought, Kevin Carter left a truly poignant message for people.
After his death, many gave their tribute to Carter in different ways. The Welsh band recorded a song about Carter in 1996; Jessica Ruby Simpson and Martin Simpson sung a song ‘Kevin Carter’; Masha Hamilton wrote a novel in 2004 which mentioned Carter and other courageous journalists; Alferdo Jaar revealed Kevin Carter’s story in a video installation in 2008 at South London Gallery and many more projects highlighted Carter.