Kevin Carter

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Kevin Carter
Born (1960-09-13)13 September 1960
Johannesburg, South Africa
Died 27 July 1994(1994-07-27) (aged 33)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Occupation Photojournalist
Notable work The vulture and the little girl

Kevin Carter (13 September 1960 – 27 July 1994) was a South African photojournalist and member of the Bang-Bang Club. He was the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph depicting the 1993 famine in Sudan. He committed suicide at the age of 33. His story is depicted in the 2010 feature film The Bang-Bang Club, in which he was played by Taylor Kitsch.

Early life

Kevin Carter was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and grew up in a middle-class, whites-only neighborhood. As a child, he occasionally saw police raids to arrest blacks 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.[1]

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.[1]

Early work

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

Carter was the first to photograph a public execution "necklacing" 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."[2]

Joao Silva and Kevin Carter in Sudan

Invitation by UN Operation Lifeline Sudan

March 1993 Robert Hadley, a former photographer and at this time the information officer for the UN Operation Lifeline Sudan, offered João Silva to travel to Sudan and report about the famine in South Sudan. It was a offer to go into southern Sudan with the rebels.[3] Silva did see this as a chance to work more as war-photographer in the future. He started the arrangements and secured assignments for the expenses of the travel. Silva told Carter about the offer and Carter was also interested to go. Kevin did see it as a chance to fix some problems "he felt trapped in." To take photos in Sudan was a task, which was an opportunity for a better career as freelancer, and to "get off of the white pipe. Kevin was on a high, motivated and enthusiastic about the trip," Marinovich wrote in the book.[4] To pay for the travel, Carter secured some money from the Associated Press and others, but needed to borrow money from Marinovich, for commitments back at home too.[3] Not known to Carter and Silva at the time was that the UN Operation Lifeline Sudan had "great difficulties in securing funding for Sudan", explains Marinovich.[5] Marinovich wrote further: "The UN hoped to publish the famine … Without publicity to show the need, it was difficult for aid organizations to sustain funding." About the politically differences and fighting, "João and Kevin knew none of this – they just wanted to get in and shoot pictures."[6]

Waiting in Nairobi

Silva and Carter had prepared carefully for the trip. They flew to Nairobi to get from there to Sudan. The new fighting in Sudan forced them to wait in Nairobi for an unspecified period of time. In between Carter was flying with the UN for one day to Juba in the south Sudan to take photos of a barge, which food aid for the region. But soon the situation changed again. The UN received permission from a rebel group to fly food aid to Ayod in. Also Rob Hadley was flying on a UN light plane in and invited Silva and Carter to fly with him to Ayod.[7]

In Ayod

The next day they arrived with the light plane in the hamlet of Ayod. The cargo plane landed shortly thereafter. The villagers were already waiting next to the runway to get food, wrote Marinovich, and "Mother who hat joined the throng waiting for food left there children on the sandy ground nearby."[8] Silva and Carter separated to shoot pictures of children and people, the living and dead victims of the hunger catastrophe that had arisen through the war. Carter went several times to Silva to tell him about the shocking situation he had just photographed. Silva was searching for rebel soldiers who could take him to someone in authority. He found some soldiers and Carter jointed him. The soldiers did not speak English, but one was interested in Carter's wristwatch. Carter gave him his cheap wristwatch as a gift.[9] The soldiers were their bodyguards and followed them for their protection.[10][11]

Prize-winning photograph in Sudan

Carter saw Silva on the runway, coming fast toward him and saying:

'Man' he put one hand on Silva's shoulder, the other covered his eyes. You won't believe what I've just shot! … 'I was shooting this kid on her knees, and then changed my angle, and suddenly there was this vulture right behind her! … And I just kept shooting – shot lots of film![12]

Silva asked him where he shot the picture and was looking around to take the photo too. Carter pointed to a place 50 m (160 ft) away. Then Carter told him that he had chasing the vulture away. He was completely shocked by the situation he had just photographed. He said to Silva "I see all this, and all I can think of is Megan". Megan was his young daughter. He lit a cigarette and became more and more emotional by the minute. "I can't wait to hug her when I get home." A few minutes later they got into the small UN plane and left Ayod for Kongor.[13]

Sold to The New York Times, the photograph first appeared on 26 March 1993 and was carried in many other newspapers around the world. Hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask the fate of the girl. The paper reported that it was not known whether she had managed to reach the feeding centre. In April 1994, the photograph won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.[14]

It turned out that the girl was a boy, Kong Nyong, and he was being taken care of in the UN food aid station.[15] Mr. Nyong died in 2008, according to his family.

Other work

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. Halfway through the incident, Carter ran out of film, but still got enough pictures to supply newspapers around the world. 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."[16]


In April 1994, Carter's photograph of a starving Sudanese child being eyed by a vulture won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.[17]


On 27 July 1994 Carter drove to Parkmore near the Field and Study Center, an area where he used to play as a child, and committed suicide by taping one end of a hose to his pickup truck’s exhaust pipe and running the other end to the driver's side window. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the age of 33. Portions of Carter's suicide note read:

I’m really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist...I am depressed...without for for child for!!!...I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain...of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners...I have gone to join Ken [recently deceased colleague Ken Oosterbroek] if I am that lucky”.

— Kevin Carter in his suicide note, [17][18]

The 1996 song "Kevin Carter" by rock band Manic Street Preachers, the third single taken from their fourth album Everything Must Go, was inspired by Carter's life and suicide.[19]


  1. ^ a b Marinovich & Silva 2000, pp. 39–41.
  2. ^ First draft by Tim Porter – "Covering war in a free society"
  3. ^ a b Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 110.
  4. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, pp. 109-110.
  5. ^ Karim, Ataul; Duffield, Mark; Jaspers, Susanne; Hendrie, Barbara (June 1996). "Operation Lifeline Sudan – A review". ResearchGate. Retrieved 30 September 2017. 
  6. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 113.
  7. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 114.
  8. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 115.
  9. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 116.
  10. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, pp. 152–153, Marinovich explains the soldiers as bodyguards.
  11. ^ "Carter and soldiers". 
  12. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 117.
  13. ^ Marinovich & Silva 2000, p. 118.
  14. ^ Pulitzer Prize
  15. ^ "Kong Nyong, el niño que sobrevivió al buitre". Retrieved 29 August 2017. 
  16. ^ Eamonn McCabe (30 July 2014). "Photojournalist Kevin Carter dies – obituary: from the archive, 30 July 1994; Media". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  17. ^ a b MacLeod, Scott (12 September 1994). "The Life and Death of Kevin Carter". TIME Domestic. Johannesburg. 144 (11). Retrieved 27 October 2015. (Subscription required (help)). 
  18. ^ "The vulture and the little girl". Rare Historical Photos. Retrieved 2 September 2016. 
  19. ^ Newark 2013, p. 96.


Further reading

  • Fujiwara, Aiko (2005). Ehagaki Ni Sareta Shōnen [Postcard Boy]. Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan: Shueisha. ISBN 4-08-781338-X. 
  • The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club, HBO documentary. 17 August 2006

External links

  • Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the girl in Sudan
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