This summer, “l’Obs” returns to the photos that have marked the history. On the front page of the newspapers, in the pages of our story books, and even proudly displayed on our t-shirts, they have made the tour of the world. But do you know the secret history of these mythical clichés?
The horror of starvation
Becoming a symbol of starvation in Africa, this terrible picture was taken in March 1993 in the village of Ayod in southern Sudan (now South Sudan) by South African photographer Kevin Carter, 33 years. It shows a starving Sudanese child, horribly weakened, who can not even move. Behind him, a vulture seems to be watching for the moment when he can throw himself on his prey, prostrate and too frail to defend himself.
When he witnesses this scene, a symbolic power unparalleled to testify to the famine that strikes the region, the photographer presses the trigger. It will take at least five pictures.
Kevin Carter is waiting for about twenty minutes, hoping that the scavenger deploys its wings and accentuates even more the strength of this image, assures “Le Monde” which had returned in 2013 on this “so ponderous image”. The vulture, motionless, will not finally open its wings. After long minutes, the photographer decides to hunt the animal before moving away from the scene and collapsing into tears.
When his friend and colleague Joao Silva, who was also present in the village, finds him, he is struck:
He was clearly distraught. While he was explaining to me what he had photographed, he kept pointing to something that had disappeared. He kept talking about his daughter Megan, he was eager to hug her. Without a doubt, Kevin was very affected by what he had photographed, and it would haunt him for the rest of his life. “
The “New York Times” publishes the photo in its March 26, 1993 edition. It accompanies an article by the great reporter Donatella Lorch on the situation of the country. The legend of the photo is very succinct: “A little girl, weakened by hunger, collapses on the way to a food supply center in Ayod. Next to it, a vulture awaits.”
The impact of the image is immediate, recalls “The World”: “The newspaper receives a lot of letters to know the fate of the child in the image so an editorial must be written a few days later to Inform that the child was able to return to the center but that it is not known if he survived. “
On April 12, 1994, a year after almost to the day, Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer Prize. This highly prestigious award, symbolizing the recognition of the profession for his work, will be accompanied by a shower of harsh criticism. A whole section of the public and the American press will reproach the photographer for a supposed lack of ethics. Kevin Carter, who acknowledges not to have helped the young child, is presented by some as a scorpion more despicable than the vulture:
The man who only adjusts his objective to best fit the suffering is perhaps also a predator, a vulture more on the spot, “wrote the” St. Petersburg Times, “a daily newspaper published in Florida.
On the morning of July 27, 1994, a few months after receiving his Pulitzer Award, Kevin Carter committed suicide by poisoning himself with carbon monoxide in his car. He never tried to explain his picture. His death reinforces the critics: is it not the weight of the guilt which pushed him to commit suicide?
“Go beyond the black legend that surrounds this photo”
After a polemic in Spain around the photo of a naked woman, lying on a sidewalk in Haiti, a photojournalist of the daily “El Mundo”, Alberto Rojas, went in search of information in 2011 The context of the cliché of Kevin Carter.
I wanted to go beyond the black legend that surrounds this historic photo. “
Alberto Rojas first meets the Spanish photographer José Maria Luis Arenzana, who was also present in Ayod in 1993. For the photojournalist, who had taken a similar photo, the child on the cliché of Kevin Carter was not abandoned to his Out. He was only a few steps away from his relatives and the supply center. The small bracelet around his right wrist also proves that he was taken care of by a humanitarian organization. A priori, Kevin Carter could not have done anything more for the child.
After a multi-day investigation in southern Sudan, Alberto Rojas finally finds the father of the child – a little boy and not a little girl – in a hamlet near Ayod. There, no one ever saw the picture of Kevin Carter. And no one, either, is surprised to see a vulture there, for they were very numerous in the region at the time. Kong Nyong’s father, as the boy was called, also confirmed that his aunt was a few meters away from him (his mother died in childbirth) and queued to get the food ration that volunteers from Physicians of the world distributed to the children of the village.
The one who has since become one of the village sages assures the journalist that his son had survived the famine but died fourteen years later of malaria fevers. Through his investigation, Alberto Rojas redraws the device of Kevin Carter: the little boy did not die of hunger, abandoned by a scavenger of the info.
“I am haunted by the keen memories of killings, of children starving”
Kevin Carter is 33 years old when he takes Ayod the photo that will make him enter the history of photojournalism. Born in Johannesburg in 1960, he grew up in apartheid. By the mid-1980s, he abandoned his profession as a sports photographer to testify to the repression of the regime against the black riots in the townships. He then takes the first picture of a man victim of the torture of the inflamed tire.
In the 1990s, he founded the Ban-Bang Club, with three other photographers (Ken Oosterbroek, Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva, who will lose both legs in 2010 in Afghanistan), an association that allows them to join forces to document The last hours of apartheid and the period of transition in the country. Their story was even adapted in film in 2010.
In 1993, accompanied by Joao Silva, he went to Sudan to show the horror of the civil war and famine that hit the country. A few days after receiving his Pulitzer Prize in 1994, he learns of the death of his friend, reporter Ken Oosterbroek, who died of a gunshot wound on April 19, 1994, caught between two fires during a report in the township of Thokoza. Greg Marinovich is injured on the same day.
Suffering from depression, addicted to a sedative, Kevin Carter, commits suicide on July 27, 1994. The few words he leaves are confused and leave doubt about the motives of his gesture:
I am depressed, without a phone, without money for rent, without money for alimony, without money for my debts … without money !!! I am haunted by the keen memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain, starving or wounded children, trigger fanatics, often police officers, executioners … I went to join Ken, I’m lucky enough. “