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Friday, December 28, 2007

Photographer Haunted by Horror of His Work

This photograph showing a starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture won Kevin Carter the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography.

The image presage no celebration; a child barely alive, a vulture so eager for carrion. Yet the photograph that epitomized Sudan's famine would win Kevin Carter fame.

On 23rd May, 14 month after capturing the memorable scene, Carter walked up to the dais in the classical rotunda of Columbia University's Low Memorial Library and received the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. The South African soaked up the attention. "I swear I got the most applause of anybody," Carter wrote back to his parents in Johannesburg. "I can't wait to show you the trophy. It is the most precious thing, and the highest acknowledgement of my work I could receive."
Carter then signed with Sygma, a prestigious picture agency representating 200 of the world's best photojournalists. "It can be a very glamorous business," says Sygma's U.S. director, Eliane Laffont. "It's very hard to make it, but Kevin is one of the few who really broke through. The pretty girls were falling for him, and everybody wanted to hear what he had to say."

There would be little time for that. Two month after receiving his Pulitzer, Carter would be dead of carbon-monoxide poisoning in Johannesburg, a suicide at 33. His red pickup truck was parked near a small river where he used to play as a child; a green garden hose attached to the vehicle;s exhaust funneled the fume inside. Wearing unwashed Lee jeans and Esquire T shirt, he got in and switched on the engine. Then he put on his music on his Walkman and lay over on his side, using the knapsack as a pillow.

The suicide note that he left behind is a litany of nightmares and dark visions, a clutching attempt at autobiography, self-analysis, explanation and excuse. "I'm really, really sorry...I am haunted by vivid memories of killings & corpes & anger & pain...of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners...The pain of life ovverrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist."

How could a man who had moved so many people with his work end up a suicide so soon after his great triumph?

The brief obituaries that appeared around the world suggested a morality tale about a person undone by the curse of fame.



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