In the violent world of African war where thousands of people shot bullets, South African photojournalist Kevin Carter shot film. The dangerous vocation of wartime photography put him in life-and-death situations on a daily basis…and eventually, it took its toll.
But Carter wasn’t killed in war. He took his own life…even after winning a Pulitzer Prize for one of his photos.
By 1993, there wasn’t much that wartime photographer Kevin Carter hadn’t witnessed – and documented. His journalistic duties in African conflicts gave him a front row seat to such horrid atrocities as shootings, executions, and xenophobic “necklace” killings. Needing a respite from Apartheid coverage in South Africa, he packed his bags and headed north, to Sudan, to capture the civil war that had engulfed that African nation.
Near the village of Ayod, Carter spotted a small, starving child desperately trying to claw her way to a food station. As she slowly pulled her emaciated body along the ground, a large vulture landed nearby and stalked her from behind. Intrigued by the scene, Carter spent twenty minutes waiting to take the perfect photo.
His image was nothing short of iconic.
It was published in The New York Times in March of 1993 and provoked world-wide outrage overnight. Much of the world’s bitterness was directed at the war (and its ethnic cleansing) that left thousands dead and millions displaced.
However, other voices from around the globe condemned Carter, himself!
An angry populace barraged him with questions about what happened to the girl. Did she make it to the shelter? Did she live? What did you do to help her?
Carter’s answers were disappointing, to say the least. He admitted he didn’t even touch the girl; he simply shooed the vulture away after snapping the pic, and went on about his business. The world derided Carter for his lack of compassion and action. Among his detractors was the largest newspaper in Florida, The St. Pete Times, which said of him, “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.” Still others accused the photographer of staging the photo.
Carter’s world began to collapse; he expressed regret that he didn’t do more to help the girl and he was continually haunted by the images he’d captured on film. Finally, on July 27, 1994, Carter parked his truck under a gum tree, attached a hose to the vehicle’s exhaust pipe, and rolled up the windows.
Moments later, Kevin Carter died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Part of his suicide note described the regret that he lived with for so long. “I’m really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist….”
Christians should learn an important lesson from the tragedy of Kevin Carter’s life. There never needs to be a day when we look back and say, “I regret not doing more.”
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)