Publishing the photo in New York Times

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March 3, 2016 by easlonj


Photo courtesy of NPR.

The article, with the photo taken by Carter, was published on March 26, 1993 by The New York Times. The caption of the photo above reads: “In a move meant to placate the West, the Sudanese Government is opening parts of the country’s famine-stricken south to relief operations, but for some, it could be too late. A little girl, weakened from hunger, collapsed recently along the trail to a feeding center in Ayod. Nearby, a vulture waited.”

Here is the link to the an archive of the original article’s text:

Days after the article was released, The New York Times received countless phone calls and letters from hundreds of readers concerning the photo taken by Carter (NY Times, 2009). Many criticized Carter for taking the photo, demanding to know if he personally intervened to help the girl shown in the photo (Yung Soo Kim and James D. Kelly, 202).

Because of the many responses to the photo, The New York Times decided to run an editor’s note to answer all the questions surrounding Carter’s involvement.

The editor’s note said Kevin Carter reported to them, saying that he chased the bird away and the girl’s fate was unknown (Editors Note, NY TIMES).

From then on, the photo became so popular, it was reprinted around the world, and in-color for the first time in Time Magazine. It was then, when Carter would receive more serious backlash for not helping out the girl.

Time Magazine

The photo was printed in color in the magazine published four days after the New York Times, stating it was the “icon of Africa’s anguish.” The caption of the photo in Time read:

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

Time Magazine received many responses as well, a mix of negative and good. Among the people who wrote letters to Time Magazine, Kevin Carter’s sister was one of them. She was said to defend her brother’s photo fearlessly.

Later, Time quoted Carter’s response to the amount of responses to the magazine. He said: “This is the ghastly image of what is happening to thousands of children. Southern Sudan is hell on earth, and the experience was the most horrifying of my career.”


More negative responses

Instead of praising Carter for the photo, readers continued to express disgust for Carter’s actions weeks after it was published.

In Florida, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times wrote: “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene.” Here, the columnist is saying that Carter should not have taken his time to take the photograph, and instead have helped the girl right away. This sentiment echoed throughout other publications, and Carter received many personal letters directed to his home.

Here is a letter sent to the St. Petersburg Times on April 21st, 1994 concerning Carter’s photo:

“It appears that Kevin Carter did his job well as a photographer, but on a scale of 1 to 10, his humanness ranks as a -10. The article indicates the child collapsed outside of a “nearby relief center.” Obviously, nearby was too far for this child but was near enough for Kevin Carter to see her when he emerged from the relief center. He then positions his camera and takes some photographs of the child and then what? Walks back into the relief center and forgets about her? How? How could anyone forget about her?”

We can see from the range of responses that Carter’s photo-journalistic ethics were called into question. In the next post, we will discuss the reason’s why his methods were ethically sound, and refer back to the Society of Professional Journalist’s Ethics guide.


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