The Vulture & Black Child (Kong Nyong)

Hard to believe this image will be almost 30 years old soon.

This photo was taken by a photo journalist Kevin Carter sometime in 1993. He had borrowed some money to buy a plane ticket so he could document famine in Sudan as a freelancer. During this time, it is believed that around 75,000 – 250,000 people starved to death from a combination of food scarcity and a civil war.

Shortly after landing, Kevin found a secluded spot and found a large vulture, peering over a small malnourished girl. The child’s tiny hands clutch at straw. Showing utter despair as the bird waits for the child to die.

Kevin Carter stood there and did nothing. He waited for the vulture to spread their wings to be able to snap a dramatic shot. Kevin waited for 20 minutes, waiting for an ideal photo. During this time – Kong lay suffering and baking in the sun desperate for food.

When after 20 min the vulture had not spread its wings, Kevin took his picture, chased the vulture away, and watched as the tiny girl resumed her struggle for food.

The photo was picked up by Time and published with the caption:

A million Sudanese face starvation. Here a child falters en route to a feeding center, while a vulture hovers.

This particular photo actually gave Steve Carter a good amount of fame. He eventually won a Pulitzer Prize.

And shortly after, he killed himself at a small park he used to play at as a child; seemingly a short time where he experienced joy. The last thing he had written, was this suicide note:

I’m really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist. …depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners … I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.

This picture haunted him for the rest of his life.

I was probably only 13 years old when first seeing the image.  This photo marked the end of my childhood – and the beginning of adulthood. I no longer observed the world with rose colored glasses. At the time, I recall endless debates and discussions regarding Steve Carter being vilified – for taking pictures as someone starved to death.

I think there is some merit to questioning the morality of this to exist – but I also remember thinking that without this photo, many others would not have the same awareness of Sudan. As a young teenager, I thought the rage from people was slightly misplaced and would be better directed at the country, government, war, and lack of infrastructure.

Now as an adult, my opinion on this has not changed much. While it does seem evident, there needs to be a “human” element to our news – it should also not be over-sensationalized. Sometimes when I see articles from Fox News or MSNBC, I get the feeling that many journalists are no more than glorified ad salesman trying to get people in a fury.

Since this picture will be turning 30 soon, I have the feeling we’ll see more bad takes on it. Hope everyone will push aside the division that the media wants to create – and instead use that energy to give someone a meal if they are hungry or in need.