Thursday, January 18, 2007

Publish and be damned

Today's post has a conscience. The text underneath the photograph to the left makes for harrowing reading.

I was sent the photograph by email yesterday. I'd heard the story of Kevin Carter in the past, firstly through the Manic Street Preachers song of the same name.

But until yesterday, I'd never seen, nor especially wanted to see, the photograph.

However, when I saw it, it was hammered home just WHY Carter ended up taking his own life - how could anyone live with themselves having recorded that image, knowing they could have done something to save the child?

In an archive interview shortly after the image was published, Carter said: "My first instinct was to make the picture. After the child moved on, I felt completely devastated."

Such was the outpouring of interest in the child that after the photo ran, the New York Times was forced to run an editor's note to say that though Carter saw the emaciated girl resume her journey to the feeding center "it is not known whether she reached the center."

Carter said he chased away the vulture. Afterwards, he told an interviewer, he sat under a tree for a long time, "smoking cigarettes and crying". His father said: "Kevin always carried around the horror of the work he did."

As a journalist, this issue intrigues me; at what point should one's duty as an employee be superceded by one's duty as a human being?

Carter's photograph brought him the highest recognition in his field, but it also brought him unimaginable misery and in the end cost him his life.

So where do we draw the line? Was the New York Times right to publish the photograph? Or did it cross a line that should never have been crossed?

The old rhetoric of 'publish and be damned' still seems to hold fast. But should it?

Personally, I don't think I would have been able to take the photograph that Carter did, nor leave the girl to crawl onwards towards her potential saviours. But in different circumstances, such as the hanging of Saddam Hussain, I would probably have been primed and ready to capture the image.

Which I suppose means that in all situations, the person involved must weigh up their own thoughts on the issue and make the decision that sits best with them. Kevin Carter made that choice.


Ole Blue The Heretic said...

Take the picture, pick the child up, bring the child to the food center.

Fear keeps us from doing brave and noble deeds. Fear also breaks us.

CSL said...

I think the photo was an important one to take, too - but walking away? It would be a hard thing to live with. Both the child and the photographer lost in this case. How terribly sad for both of them. And for us all.

Lisa W. said...

That picture never gets any easier to look at. I think the true and harsh realities from other parts of the world need to be shown/told; however, I also think that first off, we are humans and I don't think I could've ever left that child. It's easy for me to say that here in the land where, as Chris Rock said "we hunt when we're full". Not having been in Carter's shoes, it's hard to say.

Thanks for making me think today. We need more of that.

Groanin' Jock said...

Almost 15 years on, and in a world which has seen 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina beamed live into its sitting rooms, Carter's photograph still manages to get a reaction from almost all who see it.