Kevin Carter and Photos That Have Impacted My Life


This is part of my story  and is also somewhat about my junk.  You know what I am talking about. It’s the stuff most of us leave in the closet, basements and attics of our souls but at its core this is about being a living , breathing and feeling human being. Read on and look at this my jagged life.

There are several photos I have seen from the printed news media that I cannot shake from my mind. These photos have not only impacted me because of the visual sensation but the have become part of the lens through which I see the world. They are most shocking even in the one dimensional format that makes up print media.  One photo I was impacted by was during the Vietnam  War era and several in the early 1990’s.  These photos, and their impact on me since viewing them, have been running around my grey matter and haunting the  edges of my consciousness like I was being hunted by a ghost. Every time I try to turn and look at what is pursuing me  it would vanish before my  minds eyes.

For starters I cannot imagine what went through each photographers mind as they looked a these pictures that  they had taken the first time. What I do know is what went through mine. And I know I had taking those feelings and thoughts and put them in a box and stored them in my ” I don’t know what to do with this” room of my soul. I had nothing in my emotional and intellectual tool box to deal with these boxes at the time. Here is how it works, at least with me.

You see the boxes on the bottom contained things like ” Why is the sky really blue?” and “Why is grass green” You know stuff  we ask around first grade and is relatively easy to answer. Easy answer equals small box. As we get older the wall of boxes get higher and the boxes grow bigger because the answers aren’t as simple as they were in first grade. Harder answers equals bigger boxes. If there is a small base to hold a larger structure well the enviable happens: physics takes over and the wall falls down. After this happened in my life I decide to see  why these photos impacted me so. It was time to get rid of a box or two.

So several years back thanks to the power of web and search engines I started looking up the these  pictures and to read the story behind them and the  photographers who took them. Right now I am going to focus on one photo. This is the photo that probably is the most viewed of the photos that have impacted me personally.  I dare say it has broken more than a few people’s life’s view of what really happens outside their little sphere  into a million jagged little pieces.

This is my view of that picture: There is a bird in the top of the picture. There is a little child in it as well to the right and forming what is known as the rule if thirds.The landscape is faceless and barren. Your eyes travel up from the child to the bird. The bird is a vulture and the child is a girl bent, weak and dying from malnutrition. I am cold and shocked as I read about this photo and the man who took it. His name is Kevin Carter. He won a Pulitzer prize for this photograph in 1994. Three months later he killed himself. How could this happen after exposing such wrongs to an educated and wealthy world?

Kevin grew up in apartheid South Africa and was a critic of the unfairness of it. He later found himself having to enforce that unfairness in one of life’s twisted ironies. He was studying pharmacy when bad grade forced him to quit school. Without a student deferment he was drafted  into the SADF or South African Defense Force. He drifted into photojournalism after leaving the service.From there he photographed and witnessed the madness of war and of tried to show the world the atrocities going on in his back yard.

I remember seeing one of his first photos but did not know who it was by. It was a photo of a practice called necklacing. This is when a tire filled with gas is forced around a victim’s neck, arms and torso then set fire. The next photo I saw by him is the one of this child starving and the bleakness of it all. I cannot imaging what it felt like being there but I felt sick in my soul just looking in from the outside. If I felt that way how much more so must Kevin have felt it? In his suicide note he said “The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist.”  Hope died.

I know life is unfair. I know hope is an anchor to which most, if not all of us, cling to. I know when that is gone, well bad things happen. I know that now, after a little living and a few more tools in my emotional and intellectual tool box. Yes I know life is unfair but it is hard not to moved by the story behind the photo. I was equally sad that the cost of me being brought into the story was so high.

So what do I do with this? A high price has been paid to bring me into a realm most do not want to go. That place is looking outside of our little part of the world and choosing to care.  I mean when a truly terrible thing does come across our radar we can always use mankind’s default mode right? You know the one:  ” If it is not here in my back yard, it’s not my problem” mode.

The truth is I still use that mode from time to time because the worlds ills still seem too big to me.  So what do I do with this? I pray. I pray a lot.  I  also look at ways to partner with organizations that have effective relief and education efforts in third world countries.  Not much really in the face of the tsunami of injustice in this world but it is something. Part of something is something. All of nothing is nothing. When you have something hope lives.

Author’s Note: As part of my farewell-till-hopefully-the-next-time tour I wanted to revisit one of my hardest post first. Seriously the first time I saw this photo I had no idea what to feel or think. I am still somewhat frozen in time by it. I was going to attach the photo but decided I needed to paint the scene with my words.

† First published Jan 7, 2011 †

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