Kevin Carter - Kim Phuc's photo

Kevin Carter: the Johannesburg freelance war photographer really caught the apocalypse for me with the image that shocked the world - this was the picture of a lifetime described by his colleagues as: "It was to be in the right place at the right time to get that picture". The photo won him the Pulitzer price, a triumph that was acknowledged world-wide with congratulations from Bill and Hillary Clinton, immortalised in a song by the Manic Street Preachers. He was part of the so-called Bang-Bang club, the press photographers that recorded the years of brutal killing between police; soldiers and Zulu warriors in South Africa as apartheid came to its bloody end. In the 80's he photographed massacres, riots, burnings and shootings. During the war in Sudan in 1993 he was working with another South African press photographer, Joao Silver. He told Joao, "Man, you won't believe what I've just shot. I was 'shooting' this kid and suddenly there was a vulture right behind her waiting its moment and I just kept 'shooting' - shot lots of film!"The picture was published in the New York Times and caused a sensation. I personally was traumatised and continue to be until this very day. As a human being I felt horrified the way the picture gets to your very inside especially when you are helpless as regards doing anything to prevent such a thing. In 1994 when Carter went to NY to collect his award people began to question about the ethics of the shot and his actions when he photographed the child. There was huge interest in what happened to the girl. The Japanese television had fallen under the spell of the vulture picture like no other society. And this picture has been published time and time again. Everybody wants to understand his thought when he photographed that Sudanese child alive but collapsed in a field, its matchstick limbs seemingly having given out under the weight of its oversized head. It was the questions about ethics and humanity that built the pressure on him and he started having his own doubts about his actions during that hot day in Aoyd. So Kevin told Nancy Lee, the Time's picture editor, that he was sure the girl had made it to the feeding station. It seems he had not made an effort to assist this child, a question everybody was asking. He even changed the description of the shot when he talked to Nancy Lee. He talked about how he had recorded the situation, walked all around the child, photographing the scene from different angles. What he had really wanted was for "the bird to flap its wings", he said. So Lee said "As time went on, I heard Kevin telling the story to other people. It metamorphosed into - he took her picture and set down under tree and cried. He'd just come from the feeding centre where people were screaming in hunger, but there was nothing he could do to help any of them. He could not even bear to take her there. But he was sure she made it to the feeding centre because he could not hear the screams of hunger any more". Kevin tried to find a story that he felt comfortable in telling and that was comfortable to hear. To the American Photo Magazine he said, "There were hundreds of children starving like that and worse. You just meander from one horror to the next. I walked away, dammed, still upset by the horrible pornography of the death and destruction that I had witnessed. This is the most successful image after 10 years of taking pictures, but I do not want to hang it on my wall. I hate it. "But after this picture every time he lifted a camera he had to attain the levels of the vulture picture, "the budgie picture" (the photographer's cliche that the good photo is the last one haunting him). He talked about the price he paid for taking this picture.

His personal life was not working either. Maybe all the disgraceful images in his mind had resulted in him already attempting suicide, because it was difficult to keep sane with all the horror he saw. I don't think he felt guilt but it is difficult to have normal life after so many disgusting images that famine and war create - it is real dilemma. Kevin Carter died at the age of 33. Two months after he got the prize he killed himself. The myth has it that Carter died because he photographed the child but failed to help it. He just, it seems, didn't think about it. I believe he was depressed, homeless, utterly unable to deal with the psychological after burn of things he'd seen through his camera; above all, he was addicted to the "white pipe" a smokeable mix of Mandrax tranquillisers and strong marijuana. For me this was the most heart-rending and horrific image that I have ever seen. I know there is no such thing as a perfect world but these images follow me every time I go shopping and buy something I don't really need and my impotence distresses me. There is a book, The Bang-Bang Club, by Greg Marivich and Joan Silver (shot in the chest by South African police during a township riot; his friend Ken Osteroek died in the same incident) published by William Heinemann. It can be purchased for? 17. 99.

Another most incredible image is the legendary photo taken of Kim Phuc, aged 9 during the Vietnam War; running naked and screaming in pain; wailing in pain with her brother, and with a soldier behind her down Route 1 in South Vietnam; a biblical moment taking by Nick Ut. It was a picture that shocked the world. They were burned in flames and her flesh was stripped from her back. Taken on 8 June 1972 - the photo winning eventually the Pulitzer Prize - burns covered 35 percent of her body. It took 17 operations and 14 years for Kim to fully regain the movement in her neck and shoulder. She still lives with the physical sensation of burning, the scar tissue preventing her from perspiring, so she experiences temperature-changes as pain. After many vicissitudes she managed to escape to the west, to Canada, and now has two children. She is a spokeswoman for Unesco and her own organisation, the Kim Foundation, raises money worldwide for other children of conflict. She said at a Veteran Conference in America in 1996, "Even if I see the pilot who dropped the bomb, I can forgive him. We can do nothing to change the past. But we can do something now. "The new picture of Kim taken recently, is photographed by Anne Baying in colour because of the red background wall reflecting Kim's skin, one of the key images for the book of MILK Foundation - a book of International Humanitarian photography. The picture features Kim holding her first son Thomas. But in the book the image is black and white, one of the most effective post-war photographs ever taking showing the transformation from her screaming at 9 years old but now, although full of scars, happy with her son. It proves that we all have the right to live even if full of scars. We can be happy and fight as she does her for her causes: a really fulfilled end.

Verinha Ottoni.


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