Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Kevin Carter, Frank Fournier, Onwards And Upwards

How y'all been, I been a busy bee, well you may remember from a previous post regarding the actions of another photojournalist.

Well I hope you enjoyed my last two posts granted they were short and admittedly, they were two landscape shots. Hope you liked them both?

So one photojournalist I want to talk about is Kevin Carter, arguably the most controversial photographer the past century has known.

Kevin Carter was born in apartheid South Africa and grew up in a middle-class, whites-only neighborhood. As a child, he occasionally saw police raids to arrest blacks who were illegally living in the area. He said later that he questioned how his parents, a Catholic, "liberal" family, could be what he described as 'lackadaisical' about fighting against apartheid.

In 1994, South African photojournalist Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer Prize for his disturbing photograph of a Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture. That same year, Kevin Carter committed suicide.

Without the facts surrounding his death, this behaviour may seem surprising. But Carter received heaps of criticism for his actions. While in Sudan, near the village of Ayod, Carter found a small, emaciated toddler struggling to make her way to the food station. When she stopped to rest, a vulture landed nearby with his eyes on the little girl. Carter took twenty minutes to take the photo, wanting the best shot possible, before chasing the bird away.

The photo was published in The New York Times in March of 1993, and sparked a wide reaction. People wanted to know what happened to the child, and if Carter had assisted her. The Times issued a statement stating that the girl was able to make it to the food station, but beyond that no one knows what happened to her. Because of this, Carter was bombarded with questions about why he did not help the girl, and only used her to take a photograph.
The St. Petersburg Times in Florida said this of Carter: "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." Filmmaker Dan Krauss said, "In his famous picture of the vulture stalking the Sudanese girl, I began to see the embodiment of his troubled psyche. I believe Kevin did, too. In the starving child, he saw Africa's suffering; in the preying vulture, he saw his own face." Carter's daughter Megan responded to such comparisons with, "I see my dad as the suffering child. And the rest of the world is the vulture." Is this what led him to his death?

However, Carter was working in a time when photojournalists were told not to touch famine victims for fear of spreading disease. Carter estimated that there were twenty people per hour dying at the food centre. The child was not unique. Regardless, Carter often expressed regret that he had not done anything to help the girl, even though there was not much that he could have done, in all actuality.

Carter is the tragic example of the toll photographing such suffering can take on a person. Along with his famous photograph, Carter has captured such things as a public necklacing execution in 1980s South Africa, along with the violence of the time, including shootouts and other executions. Carter spoke of his thoughts when he took these photographs: "I had to think visually. I am zooming in on a tight shot of the dead guy and a splash of red. Going into his khaki uniform, in a pool of blood in the sand. The dead man's face is slightly grey. You are making a visual here. But inside something is screaming, 'My God.' But it is time to work. Deal with the rest later. If you can't do it, get out of the game."

Carter's suicide is not a direct result of the Sudanese child, nor the accusations that he staged the scene, or criticisms that he did not assist her. Carter had spiralled into a depression, to which many things were a factor, his vocation as a photojournalist in 1980s Africa definitely a large part of it. Carter and his friends Ken Oosterbroek, Greg Marinovich, and Joao Silva longed to expose the brutality of Apartheid to the world. They captured the violence of South Africa so vividly that a Johannesburg magazine Living dubbed them "The Bang-Bang Club." The title stuck.

On April 18, 1994, only 6 days after Carter won the Pulitzer, the Bang-Bang Club made their way to Tokowa to photograph an outbreak of violence there. At around noon, Carter returned to the city, and heard later on the radio that Oosterbroek had been killed in the conflict, and that Marinovich had been seriously wounded. It was obvious to his friends that Carter blamed himself for Oosterbroek's death, and he even confided in his friends that he felt as though he "should have taken the bullet."

Oosterbroek's death hit Carter hard, and little things in his life began to fall apart. He was constantly haunted by the atrocities that he had witnessed through the years, and finally, on July 27, 1994, Carter backed his red Nissan truck against a blue gum tree, attached a garden hose to the exhaust pipe, and rolled up the window to his car. He turned on his Walkman™ and rested his head against his backpack until he died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carter has become a symbol in the arts. In music, Manic Street Preachers recorded a song about him, with his name as its title. In literature, Mark Z. Danielewski based his character Will Navidson off of Carter, and even described a photograph identical to Carter's Sudanese child in his novel. In theatre, the Junction Avenue Theatre Company uses the character of Saul to portray the difficulties of being a photographer in Apartheid South Africa in their play Tooth and Nail.

Excerpts from Carter's suicide note read: "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."
Now if you think to yourself, how a photojournalist works and how can they do that, STOP and ask yourself this if it wasn't for photojournalism we would not have the facts of a society we live in!
I have not touched upon him, but Frank Fournier was another photojournalist who had pretty much the same treatment for his work in documenting the death of a girl named Omayra Sánchez.
Omayra Sánchez was a 13-year-old victim of the 1985 eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, which erupted on November 13, 1985, in Armero, Colombia causing massive lahars which killed nearly 25,000.
Trapped for three days in water, concrete, and other debris before she died, Omayra captured the attention of the media as volunteer workers told of a girl they were unable to save. Videos of her communicating with workers, smiling and making gestures to video cameras circulated around the media. Her "courage and dignity" touched Frank Fournier and many other relief workers who gathered around her to pray and be with her.
After 60 hours of struggling, she died. Her death highlighted the failure of officials to respond promptly to the threat of the volcano and also the struggle for volunteer rescue workers to save trapped victims who would otherwise be quickly saved and treated.
Sánchez became famous for a photograph of her taken shortly before she died by photojournalist Frank Fournier. When published worldwide after the young girl's death, the image caused controversy because of the photographer's decision to take it and the Colombian government's inaction in not working to prevent the Armero tragedy despite the forewarning that had been available.

I look at these shots by both photographers and I have to say how incredible and privileged we really are to view this work.

Anyways I digress from these two most notable photographers, and share something with you of my own work. My book is halfway through, yes, yes partly the reason for being away for so long. Anyways I think my book will be inspirational for other photographers; I hope you will like the work, when completed so onwards and upwards as the saying goes.