We all know how easy it is to manipulate a photograph. We can change the exposure, we can remove objects from the frame with computer software, and we can even manipulate a scene or sit around and wait until everything comes out just the way we want it to. A photographer manipulates the scene simply by the way he or she frames the shot. Human perspective manipulates the shot. The decision to snap the shutter based on what the photographer sees is a conscious decision made in the moment. Who knows what else is going on outside the four walls of that frame.
Photographers choose what to show you. The image above won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1993 and caused controversy. It's often used as an example to spark a discussion on ethics in Photojournalism. Should journalist's be expected to intervene in moments like these?
In this instance, photojournalist Kevin Carter is said to have waited around for twenty minutes to get this shot. He was reportedly hoping the vulture would spread his wings to get a more dramatic image. When that didn’t happen, he simply waited as long as he could and snapped the shot when the vulture was closer to the emaciated child. He was surrounded by Sudanese soldiers as he walked through the scene, so the complaints that he should have done something to help the little girl are, to my mind, unfounded.
Without the proper context how can any of us as casual viewers make any judgements at all? As a photojournalist who was exposed to many horrific scenes in his career up until that point, I think it’s fair to say that he had become desensitized to the violent and graphic nature in his images. He made his living off photographing death. But he wasn't so desensitized that the memories of watching people die from behind the lens didn't haunt him for the rest of his life.
There is nothing he could have done to help except to get this image seen by as many people as possible in order to bring attention to the problem of humans starving to death in Africa. He was instructed to not touch the child, and he was surrounded by armed soldiers. What should he have done to help that child? Give her food? Pick her up and take her to the feeding center?
In response to a flood of letters and phone calls from readers concerned about the girl’s plight New York Times editors wrote “The photographer reports that she recovered enough to resume her trek after the vulture was chased away. It is not known whether she reached the center (N.Y. Times, 1993).” I just don’t personally see what more he could have done to help, other than bring attention to a situation that the public should know about.
I agree with the director of ethics at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, Bob Steele, who said this about the image,
That image is captured for eternity. There were, ideally, lots of other people to give aid, medicines, care, but nobody is going to replace the role of the journalist. The military, the aid workers, the Red Cross – no one filled the role that Kevin Carter did. He was the one who got the message out to the rest of the world (Stamets, 1994).
I don’t feel he did anything wrong but create an image that was so powerful it causes everyone who sees it to react in an emotional way, to feel pain in their heart for that little starving child, who is just one of millions. Some people say he killed himself over this image, but I think it had more to do with all of the images of all the dead people that he had created up until that point. And the fact that one of his closest friends was killed making those same kind of images. The only reason he wasn't there is becuase he was accepting the Pulitzer for this photograph.
This image challenges what we view as the natural order of things in the world. We understand that there is rich and poor, privileged and underprivileged, religious and non-religious. We look at these things as beyond our control. It brings to mind the tautological phrase that seems so popular in contemporary society, “It is what it is.”
When you see something like this, you can't ignore it. I think images like this ignite action, raising our awareness, encouraging people to be the change they want to see in the world. This image says, there are people out there that need your help. Not everyone has as much food as they can eat, or clothes to wear, or houses to live in. Wake up! Open your eyes, see for yourself.
The image was purchased by the N.Y. Times and published as a way to illustrate the famine that was affecting millions in Sudan. In Chapter 5 of Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences, it says,
Media images do not simply reflect the world, they re-present it; instead of reproducing the “reality” of the world “out there,” the media engage in practices that define reality. As Hall (1982) puts it, “Representation is a very different notion from that of reflection. It implies the active work of selecting and presenting, of structuring and shaping; not merely, the transmitting of an already-existing meaning, but the more active labour of making things mean.
If I understand it right, this image goes against a hegemonic worldview; it resists the notion that starving people in Africa is just something that can’t be changed. The image was chosen for its graphic nature for the specific purpose of bringing attention to an issue that average American citizens sitting at the breakfast table drinking their coffee don’t often think of. The publishers of this content wanted people to feel something. They wanted to make you care. And it obviously worked (Croteau, 2014).
Cate, F. (1999, August 26). Through a Glass Darkly. Retrieved from www.lehigh.edu: www.lehigh.edu/~jl0d/J246-06/THROUGH%20A%20GLASS%20DARKLY%20(full%20text).htm
Croteau, D. &. (2014). Media/society: Industries, images, and audiences. . Sage Publications.
N.Y. Times. (1993, March 30). Editor's Note. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/03/30/nyregion/editors-note-513893.html
Stamets, R. S. (1994, Aoril 14). Were his priorities out of focus? Retrieved from www.lexisnexus.com:http://www.lexisnexis.com.csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/hottopics/lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=8399&stp=fr&sr=+Were+his+priorities+out+of+focus