Kevin Carter

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Kevin Carter
Born(1960-09-13)13 September 1960
Died27 July 1994(1994-07-27) (aged 33)
Parkmore, Johannesburg, South Africa
Notable workThe Vulture and the Little Girl

Kevin Carter (13 September 1960 – 27 July 1994)[1] was a South African photojournalist and member of the Bang-Bang Club. He was the recipient in 1994 of a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph depicting the 1993 famine in Sudan. He died by suicide at the age of 33. His story is depicted in the book The Bang-Bang Club,[2] written by Greg Marinovich and João Silva and published in 2000.

Early life[edit]

Kevin Carter was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and grew up in a middle-class, whites-only neighbourhood. As a child, he occasionally saw police raids to arrest black people who were illegally living in the area. He said later that he questioned how his parents, a Catholic, "liberal" family, could be what he described as "lackadaisical" about fighting against apartheid.[3]

After high school, Carter dropped out of his studies to become a pharmacist and was drafted into the army. To escape from the infantry, he enlisted in the Air Force in which he served four years. In 1980, he witnessed a black mess-hall waiter being insulted. Carter defended the man, resulting in him being badly beaten by the other servicemen. He then went absent without leave, attempting to start a new life as a radio disc-jockey named "David". This, however, proved more difficult than he had anticipated. Soon after, he decided to serve out the rest of his required military service. After witnessing the Church Street bombing in Pretoria in 1983, he decided to become a news photographer and journalist.[3]

Early work[edit]

Carter had started to work as a weekend sports photographer in 1983. In 1984, he moved on to work for the Johannesburg Star, exposing the brutality of apartheid.

Carter was the first to photograph a public "necklacing" execution by black Africans in South Africa in the mid-1980s. Carter later spoke of the images: "I was appalled at what they were doing. But then people started talking about those pictures... then I felt that maybe my actions hadn't been at all bad. Being a witness to something this horrible wasn't necessarily such a bad thing to do."[4]

In Sudan[edit]

In March 1993, Robert Hadley of the UN Operation Lifeline Sudan offered João Silva the opportunity to travel to Sudan and report about the famine in South Sudan embedding with the rebels in that area's civil war.[5] Silva told Carter, who felt it was an opportunity to expand his freelance career and use work as a way to address personal problems.[6] Operation Lifeline Sudan had been having funding difficulties,[7] and the UN believed that publicising the area's famine and needs would help aid organisations sustain funding. Silva and Carter were apolitical and desiring only to photograph.[8]

After flying to Nairobi, the two found out that new fighting in Sudan would force them to wait in that city indefinitely. During this time, Carter made a day trip with the UN to Juba in the south Sudan to photograph a barge with food aid for the region. Soon afterwards, the UN received permission from a rebel group to fly food aid to Ayod. Hadley invited Silva and Carter to fly there with him.[9] Once in Ayod, Silva and Carter separated to shoot photos of famine victims, discussing between themselves the shocking situations they were witnessing. Silva found rebel soldiers who could take him to someone in authority. Carter joined him. One of the soldiers, who did not speak English, was interested in Carter's wristwatch. Carter gave him the cheap watch as a gift.[10] The soldiers served as their bodyguards.[11][12]

Pulitzer Prize photograph in Sudan[edit]

Carter shot an image of what appeared to be a little girl, fallen to the ground from hunger, while a vulture lurked on the ground nearby. He told Silva he was shocked by the situation he had just photographed, and had chased the vulture away. A few minutes later, Carter and Silva boarded a small UN plane and left Ayod for Kongor.[13]

Sold to The New York Times, the photograph first appeared on 26 March 1993, and syndicated worldwide. Hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask the fate of the girl. The paper said that according to Carter, "she recovered enough to resume her trek after the vulture was chased away" but that it was unknown whether she reached the UN food center.[14] In April 1994, the photograph won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.[15][16]

In 2011, the child's father revealed the child was actually a boy, Kong Nyong, and had been taken care of by the UN food aid station. Nyong had died four years prior, c. 2007, of "fevers", according to his family.[17]

The photo, and its associated moral and political implications, have appeared in sociological academic journals. Scholars like Kleinman have posited Carter's work as an "appropriation of suffering" and as a greater example of colonial discourses.[18]

Other work[edit]

In March 1994, Carter took a photograph of the three Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging members being shot during their abortive invasion of Bophuthatswana just before the South African election. Carter ran out of film halfway through the incident. Eamonn McCabe of The Guardian said: "It was a picture that made nearly every front page in the world, the one real photograph of the whole campaign."[19]


Four months after being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography, Carter died of suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning on 27 July 1994 at age 33.[20][21] Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, wrote of Carter, "And we know a little about the cost of being traumatized that drove some to suicide, that, yes, these people were human beings operating under the most demanding of conditions."[22]

I'm really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist. …depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners … I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.

— Kevin Carter, [Suicide letter]

The final line is a reference to his recently deceased colleague Ken Oosterbroek.[23]

In popular culture[edit]

The 1996 song "Kevin Carter" by rock band Manic Street Preachers, from their fourth album Everything Must Go, was inspired by Carter's life and suicide.[24] The lyrics were written by Richey Edwards shortly before his own disappearance.

A main character in the book House of Leaves, Will Navidson, is a photojournalist who is tormented by guilt over winning a Pulitzer Prize for a photo of a starving Sudanese girl but not helping her. In Footnote 336 it is mentioned that this is "clearly based on Kevin Carter's [...] photograph".[25]

The 2001 album Poets and Madmen, by American heavy metal band Savatage, is inspired by the life and death of Carter.[26]

In the 2010 film The Bang Bang Club, Carter was played by Taylor Kitsch.[27]


  1. ^ McCabe, Eamonn (30 July 2014). "From the archive, 30 July 1994: Photojournalist Kevin Carter dies". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
  2. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, pp. 1–254.
  3. ^ a b Marinovich & Silva 2000, pp. 39–41.
  4. ^ "First Draft by Tim Porter: Covering War in a Free Society". Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  5. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 110.
  6. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, pp. 109–110.
  7. ^ Karim, Ataul; Duffield, Mark; Jaspers, Susanne; Hendrie, Barbara (June 1996). "Operation Lifeline Sudan – A review". Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  8. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 113.
  9. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 114.
  10. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 116.
  11. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, pp. 152–153, Marinovich explains the soldiers as bodyguards.
  12. ^ "Carter and soldiers" – via Vimeo.
  13. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 118.
  14. ^ "Editors' Note". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  15. ^ "The Importance Behind the Photo of a Starving Child and a Vulture". 100 Photographs The Most Influential Images of All Time.
  16. ^ MacLeod, Scott (12 September 1994). "The Life and Death of Kevin Carter". Time. Vol. 144, no. 11. Johannesburg.
  17. ^ Rojas, Alberto (21 February 2011). "Kong Nyong, el niño que sobrevivió al buitre" [Kong Nyong, The Boy Who Survived the Vulture]. El Mundo (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 30 June 2017. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  18. ^ Kleinman, Arthur; Kleinman, Joan (20 November 2015), "Cultural Appropriations of Suffering", Cultures of Fear, Pluto Books, pp. 288–303, ISBN 978-1-84964-432-7, retrieved 5 December 2023
  19. ^ Eamonn McCabe (30 July 2014). "Photojournalist Kevin Carter dies – obituary: from the archive, 30 July 1994; Media". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  20. ^ Keller, Bill (29 July 1994). "Kevin Carter, a Pulitzer Winner for Sudan Photo, Is Dead at 33". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  21. ^ Carlin, John (31 July 1994). "Obituary: Kevin Carter". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 17 January 2018. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  22. ^ Tutu 2000, p. xi.
  23. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, pp. 195.
  24. ^ Newark 2013, p. 96.
  25. ^ Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. p. 368. ISBN 9780385603102.
  26. ^ "The Official Savatage Homepage". Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  27. ^ The Bang Bang Club (2010), IMDb


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