Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Photograph shows a famine stricken child crawling on the ground while a vulture waits in the background.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, June 2006]
Origins: If a hundred of the most talented members of the advertising industry were tasked with creating an image to illustrate the concepts of poverty and famine, quite possibly none of them would come up with anything nearly as grippingly and devastatingly effective as this 1993 picture by South African freelance photographer Kevin Carter. His poignant photograph of an emaciated toddler who collapsed from hunger on her way to a feeding center in famine-ravaged Sudan while a vulture ominously loomed in the background was originally published in the New York Times (which later described it as "a metaphor for Africa's despair") and earned Carter the 1994
As described in Time magazine, the scene Carter captured in his now-famous photograph was one he stumbled across during a trip he made on his own in order to cover the civil strife in war-torn Sudan:
In 1993 Carter headed north of the border with [friend and fellow journalist] João Silva to photograph the rebel movement in famine-stricken Sudan. To make the trip, Carter had taken a leave from the [South Africa] Weekly Mail and borrowed money for the air fare. Immediately after their plane touched down in theBut Kevin Carter was also a troubled soul, struggling with issues such as financial insecurity, drug problems, failed relationships, and the horrors of having witnessed multiple scenes of death — enough of a burden for anyone to struggle with, but in Carter's case a burden made extra-heavy by the critical condemnation heaped upon him for taking the photograph that had made him world-famous:
After another day in Sudan, Carter returned to Johannesburg. Coincidentally, the New York Times, which was looking for pictures of Sudan, bought his photograph and ran it on
Though the photo helped draw enormous attention to the humanitarian crisis that was engulfing Sudan, it was criticized by others who felt that Carter should have helped the girl and was instead exploiting her suffering for his gain. The real vulture, they said in vitriolic hate mail, was Carter himself. Some photojournalists might have easily dismissed such criticism, but it hit Carter hard and fed his self-doubts.On
The Braamfonteinspruit is a small river that cuts southward through Johannesburg's northern suburbsAlthough the purported diary entry (beginning "Dear God, I promise I will never waste my food") that has been tacked onto this photograph may sound like something Kevin Carter might have written, those words were not recorded in his diary, nor are they known to have been written or spoken by him. They were added to the photograph by an unknown hand after the picture had been circulating on the Internet for several years.
The suicide note he left behind is a litany of nightmares and dark visions, a clutching attempt at autobiography, self-analysis, explanation, excuse. After coming home from New York, he wrote, he was
Kevin Carter's life (and death) was the subject of the 2004 documentary, The Life of Kevin Carter.
Last updated: 12 September 2008
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