The Story of Pulitzer Winner Kevin Carter

He had been awarded the most prestigious award a photojournalist can ever wish for: the Pulitzer Prize. It was May 23 1994, and he was just two months shy of killing himself. He had witnessed far too many violent scenes before and after media coverage of the anti-apartheid struggle reached fever pitch, and this time he’d be calling the shots and didn’t want any. He had driven down to the Braamfonteinspruit river, a place laced with childhood memories, secured by the tranquility of what is past. As the gas made its way from the exhaust pipe to a crack in the window, Carter wrote until his pen slid across and dropped onto his knees. “I have got to the point where the pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist…I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain…I am haunted by the loss of my friend Ken…”

He had meet Ken Oosterbroek back in the early 1980’s whilst on assignment, two young white Afrikaans bent on photographing injustice, getting a libido kick out of danger or simply fending off identity crises amidst a mass black revolution. Ken had a craziness with which Kevin could relate. “I hope I die with the best fucking pic of all time on my neg. -it wouldn’t really be worth it otherwise…” Ken had ominously written in his diary in 1988.  He was taller than most men, almost perching over his peers, a field of view that gave him a sense of superiority that tainted his character with arrogance and narcissism. Though Kevin resented him at first, the risks and perils of war photography cemented a spirit of camaraderie shared and understood only by those who brave darkness together.  When Ken’s brazen risk-taking for that best picture got him shot, Kevin wasn’t there to brave it with him, to carry him to safety whilst bullets whizzed by, and the guilty thought traversed him, as it usually traverses the surviving actors in a tragedy, that Ken might have lived had he been present on that fateful day.

Ken’s attempt to take a picture cost him his life. It was Kevin’s success in taken one that would cost him his, the final drop that brimmed his depression. Kevin had won the coveted prize for photographing what would spread like wildfire and utter the word famine in the mouths of millions in the rich world.  A grayish-brown photo, of a kneeling and emaciated Sudanese girl in the foreground, with a vulture a few meters away, eyeing her patiently.  It is a haunting image that shook Kevin to his very core. He had reached professional glory, but the moment was anti-climactic. It wouldn’t take long for the mea culpa of the shot to be redirected from the erstwhile indifference of the world to the apathy of that single man behind the lens. They called him a callous opportunist: the carnivorous vulture and the media vulture, both stalking the bait. However much Kevin would insist he chased the bird away, the feeling of being a spectator in the face of monstrosities gnawed at him relentlessly.

Alone in a remote patch of Africa sat a man stricken with grief, having lost faith in the one thing that boxed his most darkest thoughts – a camera capable of bringing him and the world some redemption. A sad story that ends with a hint of salvation nonetheless, for Kevin’s last sentence speaks of finally finding peace. “I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.”

The Pulitzer picture of Kevin Carter

Ken Oosterbroek is shot and killed

A documentary on the legendary war photographer James Nacthwey

A  beautifully penned book on the famous BANG BANG club, in which Ken and Kevin were members, and written by the two surviving members Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva,  can be bought on Amazon here

A photo-reportage website worth visiting


1 Comment

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One response to “The Story of Pulitzer Winner Kevin Carter

  1. Isabelle Kostecka

    Super inspirant. Je ne l’ai lu que maintenant. Tu saisis bien le drame de la prérogative qu’est celle du photographe de guerre.

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