At the same time that I was born, on the other side of the world thousands of children were dying of hunger. Kevin Carter had a mission: to photograph everything that happened in South Africa in the worst famine crisis in its history.
In 1993 he traveled to Sudan. He spent a whole day photographing the Ayod village. When he finished he went to the forest. Suddenly he heard moans. A scrawny boy was lying on the floor. But, he explained, he could not do anything. He had been warned and prohibited from touching the victims of the disease. A vulture stood near him with a hungry look. Carter could not do anything: he decided to stay there until the vulture left. «I lit a cigarette, I spoke with God and I cried».
The New York Times published the photo and launched Kevin Carter to fame, so much so that he won the Pulitzer Prize. But photography generated a debate that changed the life of the photographer: what was the limit of his work.
It was his most successful photograph but it took him to a depression he could never get out of. A year later he committed suicide. In a letter he explained why: “That picture is the most successful of my career. But I can not hang it on my wall. I hate her. I am tormented by the memories lived, by the massacres, the corpses, the anger and the pain”.
What happened to that child? As it was known, he survived the vulture and malnutrition. However, at age 14 he died of malarial fever, a disease caused by the bite of a mosquito from swampy land.
Why do we return to this photo?
In a world increasingly marked by confrontations, photographers play a fundamental role.
In April 2017 a photographer went viral when he cried for a dead child in Syria. Hundreds of buses left Aleppo to save the lives of thousands of citizens. However, a car bomb exploded near them and caused 126 people to die. Among the deceased there were 80 children. Abd Alkader Habak was sent to cover the exit of all citizens, but he found another reality: an image full of death, fire and children. He decided to forget his role as a photographer and help the little ones. But, one of those children did not survive, died in his arms. And Habak collapsed and wept: all his attempts had been in vain.
This was a case of a person who decided to put aside his work. But what is the limit? In the case of Carter if he helped the boy in another way, he could die. In the case of Habak, the fire and debris could also affect it.
To cite another example: the case of Omran Daqneesh, the Syrian boy who was photographed covered in dust and blood. A bomb destroyed his neighborhood and his home and was rescued. While waiting to be attended, a photographer captured the image that became the symbol of the terror of the Syrian war.
Photographers should not forget their role as citizens or the ethics of their profession. However, sometimes it is impossible to act. In those cases, photography may not allow saving that life, but other lives. With an image, millions of people can understand what is happening in another part of the world and act to change the situation.