Starving to Death: a Photograph that Narrates a
Childhood’s misery in War
A documentary photograph captures a certain moment in time to record or preserve it, but that photograph can play a major role in changing people’s lives. A photograph, that documents adverse moments such as poverty, war, disaster, and all suffering areas, has a strong effect because it associates with the public spatial. The photograph Starving to Death (as I shall call it) is a symbol and a metaphor for how a documentary photograph can effectively convey a message; it tells a tragic story of one day in life of a child during a pitiless war. Starving to death can be used as a trigger to ignite the international community’s reaction against the current cruel war in Darfur.
The starving to death photograph is a composite of different elements: an emaciated child, a vulture, a couple of huts, trees, and unplanted land. The main character in the photograph is a black African girl collapsed on land partially covered with grass. Her body shape demonstrates clearly that she suffers malnutrition: a big head, a tiny body with obvious ribs and no muscles to cover them, long emaciated arms, and wide dusty feet. The child also was naked except for an ivory necklace and a bracelet.
Behind the child stands a big vulture gazing at and waiting impatiently for the child. A little distance away, there are a couple of huts and big trees which seem as if they are parts of a forest. The child appears lonely in the photograph; no parents appear beside her, no brothers, no friends, or any human being is seen in the scene within the photograph’s frame. In fact, no sign of life is seen in this photograph beside the child, other than the vulture and the trees.
Behind this photograph is a tragic story of one of the most horrifying civil wars in Africa that was led by corrupted regimes and dictators. The photograph was actually taken in southern Sudan in 1993 during the civil war that took place during 1983-2005. Photojournalist Kevin Carter, who took this photograph, won a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1994. The photograph was published in The New York Times in 1993.
The photograph tells a narrative of a starving African girl from southern Sudan who was powerlessly seeking her way to a feeding center for relief, but the tiny emaciated body had no more energy to move. She sank, tried to stand, but she had no muscles to help her. She grabbed some grass to help her to raise her weak body, even though her head rested on the ground. The vulture, which feeds from mankind’s flesh in those misery events in such areas, landed behind the starving girl. It waited for the imminent death of the child to feed itself from fresh human flesh. “Carter began snapping photos of famine victims. Seeking relief from the sight of masses of people starving to death, he wandered into the open bush. He heard a soft, high-pitched whimpering and saw a tiny girl trying to make her way to the feeding center. As he crouched to photograph her, a vulture landed in view….” (Macleod and Johannesburg)
What tragic story this photograph tells? Where were the child’s parents?...
To be continued,
Mohamed A. Mohamedain