A passionate front-line photographer who couldn’t detach his emotions from work, Kevin Carter was haunted by the horrors he witnessed during his lifetime. Considered an ambitious man of tumultuous emotions which eventually drove him into depression, the award-winning South African photojournalist had a brilliant but shortlived career. Though he had been fatally affected by the countless tragedies he witnessed on the job, the photographer took bold steps to show his society’s cruelties but was eventually killed by photojournalism. Here’s a detailed insight into Carter’s life.
Kevin Carter Biography
A second generation Irishman, Kevin Carter was born on September 13, 1960. Though a white man raised in an all-white locality in South Africa during Apartheid, Carter despised the historical ideology of rulership at the time and was strongly against the oppressive treatment meted out on blacks.
He attended a Catholic boarding school in Pretoria where he graduated from in 1976. He thereafter went on to study pharmacy but dropped out due to bad grades. Next, he served in the military by joining the South African Defense Force. It was during this period that he was beaten up by his fellow soldiers for attempting to protect a black waiter in his mess hall from being abused.
Sickened by the happenings around him, Carter left the military shortly afterward to begin a new life. After witnessing the 1983 Church Street Bombing in Pretoria, Carter found his calling and decided to become a photojournalist so as to document and expose the appalling Apartheid treatments he was witnessing.
Journey To Fame
He initially began as a sports photographer but shortly after, switched to being a political front-line photographer, documenting the violence, repression, discrimination, affliction, and misery his society was experiencing at the time. Carter later joined forces with a group of white photojournalists who shared same interests. With a passion to expose the atrocities of Apartheid, the group made up of four friends became famous for vividly capturing South Africa’s extreme violence and were consequently dubbed the ‘Bang-Bang Club’.
Thirteen years down his journalism career, Kevin Carter was in need of a break from South Africa’s tumultuous atmosphere and sponsored himself to the war-torn and famine-stricken South Sudan. It was while in Sudan in 1993, that he captured his most famous career image. The heart-breaking picture depicted a plump vulture patiently eyeing a starving, skeletal Sudanese girl who collapsed while trying to reach for food at the feeding center.
Luck shone on Carter after he returned to South Africa as the New York Times, which was at the time hunting for photos of Sudan, bought and published his photograph on March 26, 1993. Carter seemed to have struck gold with the picture which was later published by several other newspapers worldwide and sparked strong reactions. It stirred series of questions from numerous people around the globe who wanted to know what eventually became of the child.
Given the degree of curiosity the iconic picture raised, Carter and The New York Times later responded to queries about the poor girl’s fate. According to Carter, he chased the scavenger away but her horrific condition left him weeping under a tree thereafter.
The image of the starving Sudanese girl stalked by a vulture went viral that it became one of the top ten most striking picture of all time for several publications polls. It, therefore, didn’t come as much of a surprise when in 1994, the picture won Carter a Pulitzer Prize.
Why Did He Commit Suicide?
While the world was congratulating Carter for this new feat and hoping it was the beginning of many more breakthroughs for him, the journalist was unfortunately very close to the end of his promising career. In his short life, Carter witnessed barbaric practices, injustice, and gruesome killings which took a fatal toll on him and further drove him into depression. In order to cope with these horrors, the award-winning photojournalist had to indulge in drugs which became part of his daily struggles. Already a broken man, Carter was further hit when his best friend, Ken Osterbroek, was shot dead beside him while covering a gun battle in Thokoza township.
Sadly, just three months after winning the Pulitzer Award, the South African photographer committed suicide. On July 27, 1994, the day which became the last day of Carter’s life, he drove to a park and connected the exhaust pipe with a hose into his pick-up truck. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning aged 33.
Authorities discovered Kevin Carter’s body and a suicide note which showed that he suffered from depression and was haunted by the horrifying memories and nightmares that came with his career. Carter who always struggled with the horror of his work, left behind his parents, a young daughter, and two sisters. A posthumous feature film which chronicles the photojournalist’s story and that of his Bang Bang Club members was produced in 2010.