Kevin Carter (1960 – 1994) was an award-winning South African photojournalist and member of the ‘Bang-Bang Club,’ a collective of war photojournalists that also included Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek, and Joao Silva.
Carter was born in apartheid 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.
After high school, Carter dropped out of his studies to become a pharmacist and was drafted into the army. In 1980, he witnessed a black mess-hall waiter being insulted. Carter defended the man, resulting in his being badly beaten by the other soldiers. He then went AWOL, and unsuccessfully attempted to start a new life as a radio disk-jockey named ‘David.’ Suffering from depression, he attempted suicide, but survived. Soon after, he found himself back in the military, and following an ANC attack on the base he was stationed at in Pretoria, he decided he wanted to become a news photographer.
Carter started as a weekend sports photographer in 1983. In 1984 he moved on to work for the ‘Johannesburg Star,’ bent on exposing the brutality of apartheid. He was the first to photograph a public execution by ‘necklacing,’ forcing a rubber tire, filled with petrol, around a victim’s chest and arms, and setting it on fire. The victim may take up to 20 minutes to die, suffering severe burns in the process. The victim was Maki Skosana who had been accused of having a relationship with a police officer.
In 1993 Carter made a trip to Sudan. The sound of whimpering near the village of Ayod attracted Carter to an emaciated Sudanese toddler. The girl had stopped to rest while struggling to a feeding center, whereupon a vulture had landed nearby. He said that he waited about 20 minutes, hoping that the vulture would spread its wings. It didn’t. Carter snapped the haunting photograph and chased the vulture away. However, he came under criticism for just photographing — and not helping — the little girl. The photograph was sold to The New York Times where it appeared for the first time on March 26, 1993. Many contacted the newspaper to ask whether the child had survived, leading the newspaper to run a special editor’s note saying the girl had enough strength to walk away from the vulture, but that her ultimate fate was unknown.
A little more than a year after taking it, Carter won the Pulitzer Prize for photojournalism for the photograph. Two months later, he took his own life by taping one end of a hose to his pickup truck’s exhaust pipe and running the other end to the passenger-side window. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the age of 33. Portions of Carter’s suicide note read: ‘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, who was killed by friendly fire] if I am that lucky.’