This is another image that comes up time after time when I search for new possibilities of images to discuss in this blog. While I’ve avoided talking about it for awhile, because I find it very difficult to look at, I feel that with the theme of “photos that changed the world” that I started a few days ago, the photograph fits here.
I want to try and avoid talking about the aesthetics of this photo, mainly because I think they and the image as a whole speak for themselves enough that I don’t need to reemphasize why they are effective at all.
But this photograph brings up a lot of the questions I have about the roles of photographers in iconic images. After a bit of research on this image, I learned that the photographer, Kevin Carter, allegedly took the photograph after watching the scene for several moments, without stepping in earlier to, perhaps, chase the vulture away from the child. When the image was distributed its value was immediately recognized; this was the epitome of the plight and despair of Africa. But Carter received some criticism for not trying to fix the situation in front of him. Though his photo has made us capable of understanding the difficulties in Africa better, it is also evidence that he cared more about documenting the horrors he saw than taking direct action against them. (He did claim to chase the bird away after snapping the picture.)
It makes me wonder more…are the photographers of horrible events in some form acting as secondary perpetrators of violence? Are they nearly or just as bad as the things they snap pictures of but don’t try to take part in? (In other words…is Carter just like the vulture??) Or is their act of documentation more noble, as it enables the world to want to change (as we’ve discussed before)?
When you read these you’ll further learn that Carter killed himself not long after taking this photograph. His suicide note and the speculation of many around him give evidence that the photos he’d taken in Africa haunted him enough to drive him to an early death. He won a Pulitzer prize and killed himself in the same year. It seems like an obvious epitomized symbol of the ambiguity of a photographer’s role binary, good or evil.