The heartbreaking photography made an impression. We discern a baby with black skin who crawls, skeletal, exhausted, on what looks, in our imaginations of Westerners, to an African desert. Worse still: behind the child is positioned a vulture, bird of misfortune which watches for the death of its prey, too weak to defend itself.
The photo called “The little girl and the vulture” by Kevin Carter (South Sudan, 1993). © Kevin Carter / Sygma / Corbis
There are images that synthesize the dramaturgy of a tragedy. Like that of the little Syrian drowned on the Greek shores, while his parents were fleeing the war, this photo alone illustrates the famine that raged in the early 1990s in southern Sudan in the grip of civil war.
The New York Times publishes it in its March 26, 1993 edition. It accompanies an article by the great reporter Donatella Lorch on the situation in the country. Her caption is succinct: “A little girl, weakened by hunger, collapses on the way to a food supply center in Ayod. Beside, a vulture waits. “
Kevin Carter, one of the founders of the famous Bang-Bang collective
The impact of the image, signed by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter, 29, one of the founders of the famous Bang-Bang collective which denounces the brutalities of the end of apartheid, is immediate. The newspaper is assailed by letters eager to know the fate of the child. An editorial was even written in the following days to reassure readers: the child was able to join the center. It is not known, however, whether he survived.
A year later, on April 12, 1994, Nancy Buirski, photo editor at New York Times, calls its author. She announces to him that he has won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. But, honored by his peers, the photographer is, at the same time, vilified by readers, accused of not having brought assistance to the child, of being an “information scavenger”. The t Petersburg Times writes as follows: “The man who only adjusts his objective to best frame the suffering is perhaps also only a predator, another vulture on the scene. “
Alberto Rojas, photojournalist in El Mundo, finds witnesses
Everything happens as if the photojournalism, as committed as it may be, had to, beyond testimony, be accompanied by a moral and ethical pact, which would have been lacking here. The worst part is that Kevin carter, overwhelmed with debts, committed suicide on July 27, 1994. Could the shocking image have killed its author, overwhelmed by guilt?
Several years later, Alberto Rojas, photojournalist at El Mundo, finds witnesses and restores the context of the shooting: on this day, the child who is in fact a little boy is not alone, as the photo suggests. He is a few meters from his father, medical staff, the Médecins Sans Frontières health center, and wears a bracelet that attests to his care. Kevin Carter takes five shots.
After long minutes, he chases the vulture away before walking away from the scene and breaking down in tears. He is cleared, in particular by his colleague Joao Silva, present on the spot, of the serious accusation according to which he would have left the child for dead. But he, who survived the famine, died in 2007 of malaria, endemic in the region.
To be continued in this series (Sunday July 11 on l’Humanité.fr and Monday 12 in l’Humanité): 1960. When Korda immortalized Che
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The little boy and the vulture