28 April 2014
Kevin Carter’s Haunting Photograph
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Kevin Carter’s 1993 photograph of an emaciated child and a vulture in Sudan is worth a million—at least. This 1994 Pulitzer-prize winning photo is emotionally haunting. The detailed emphasis on the child, along with the comparison between child and vulture and the decision to include the surrounding environment, creates a photo that strikes a nerve with the viewer and forces questions regarding the sanctity of life.
There is both an animal and a human in this photograph, but the photographer decided to draw the viewer’s attention at first to the child by putting him/her in the forefront of the frame. With the child being the “closest” to the viewer (and also the photographer), one can see specific details about this child. For example, the child’s ribs are exposed, suggesting intense hunger and malnourishment. Moreover, if one looks closely, it also seems as if the child is clutching the dry grass. This could imply a few things: that the child is still alive or, more symbolically, that the child is grasping onto some kind of chance at life.
While the child is clearly the central and desired focus of this photograph, one cannot help but make a comparison between the child and the vulture, particularly because the photo reveals a short distance between the two, and, more powerfully, the child is crouched in a pose that strongly resembles the vulture. A comparison between child and vulture raises a few interesting points. For instance, a vulture is known to feed on corpses. Does this vulture believe this child to be dead? Or does the vulture believe that this child will be dead soon (and thus ready to be eaten)? Moreover, is the child in a desperate state, ready, like a vulture, to eat anything s/he finds (linking back to the grasped grass)? Also, with the frame isolating/focusing on just the child and the vulture, on has to ask, is there no one else here? Not only parents/guardians, but where are other humans? Where is other life? Perhaps this was a choice, by Carter, to frame his subjects in this isolated way. Finally, even with the child and the vulture both being “alive,” a vulture lives off of dead things, and the child is, assumingly, near death; thus there are profound elements of death of helplessness in this photo.
The elements of death and lack of options are made ever more apparent when the…