A Vulture Behind The Camera?


NEWSPAPER AND TV NEWSCHANNEL photographers are now called photojournalists. The Wage Board for Working Journalists in India applies to them also. So they no more just mechanically take photographs but also take them to reflect the spirit of the news and often succeed in conveying the news more than words.

Having been the first reporter in central India to start taking news photographs along with reporting in 1959, I was faced with a dilemma: Are the news photographers just to capture the moment that would never come back or do they have a social responsibility also? For example, if present when a crime is being committed, do they report to the police and if they see a disaster do they, besides photographing it, also try to prevent it?

The question has still not been convincingly answered. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that being journalists they have the same ethical issues as print or TV journalists

But the temptation of having “exclusive” pictures and scoring a ‘scoop’ may, sometimes, cloud their vision. It was even alleged that during the agitation for a separate Telangana state in India some of the ‘self-immolations’ on the Osmania University campus were inspired, if not actually staged, by photographers and/or reporters.

It is like a journalist setting fire to a building or causing an accident just to get a scoop. When, as chief of a news agency bureau, I had an exclusive ‘story’ on a disaster in which there were many casualties, the media column of a Marathi daily (obviously at the instance of a rival journalist) alleged lack of social responsibility.

Napalm girl

Nic Ut’s 1973 Pulitzer winner photo

The writer of the column was perhaps not so well conversant with English as to read in my report that the DIG of Police proceeding to the spot for rescue and relief work was quoted to confirm the news. Luckily, the writer left journalism soon.

There are photographs which have changed the course of history or touched the conscience of the world. A photograph of a young girl, weeping and running naked on the road with her body burning due to a napalm bomb, did more to touch the collective conscience of the United States of America than any other action.

The ‘Napalm Girl’, snapped by Nic Ut for Associated Press in a moment of desperation in 1972, “encapsulated the terror of the U.S. war in Vietnam. The legend of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the girl in question, was simple and gratifying to opponents of the war.” She survived and is now settled in Canada as an inspirational speaker and peace activist.

Nic won the 1973 Pulitzer for his photo.

The conscience of the whole world on its inaction over famine and starvation deaths in Sudan was stirred by another photo, also of a young girl. Assailed for his inaction, photographer Kevin Carter committed suicide. I quote below a social media post about the photo (on top).
They called it “The Vulture and the little girl”.

The photo of a vulture waiting for a starving Sudanese girl to die was taken by Kevin Carter who later won the Pulitzer for this picture, but he lived just a few months to enjoy his supposed achievement because he later got depressed and took his own life.

He was actually savoring his feat and being celebrated on major news channels and networks worldwide.
His depression started when during a (phone in) interview someone phoned on and asked him what happened to the child. He replied, “I didn’t wait to find out after this shot as I had a plane to catch.…

And the caller replied,

“I put it to you that there were two vultures on that day. One had a camera”.

His constant thought of that statement led to depression and his ultimate suicide.
In whatsoever we do, let humanity come first before what we can gain out of the situation.

Kevin Carter could have been alive today if he just picked that little girl up and taken her to the United Nation’s feeding Center where she was attempting to reach.

Perhaps like the South Vietnam girl. the Sudanese girl too may have survived. And Kevin Carter too may have lived on to take more such photos. I was reminded of the address to journalism students, whom I took on a ‘study tour’ of New Delhi, by the famous Indian photographer Raghu Rai, whose photograph of a Bhopal gas tragedy victim (a small girl again) being buried haunts many memories (see ‘A TOWN CALLED PENURY – the Changing Culture of Indian Journalism’ page 158) and of Kishore Parekh who showed the whole world the Pakistani atrocities in what is now Bangladesh. And also of the world’s greatest portrait photographer, Karsh of Ottawa, who said he photographed not a face but a personality.

What a good photographer needs is not just a view, but a vision.

Published by

B. Someswar Rao

60 years of journalism, from the age of 16, and two books later, life has so much more to offer, there is no looking back. Not yet. Unstoppable after 70 is a simple expression of my thoughts, my triumphs, my failures and everything that makes this journey incredible. My books: - A TOWN CALLED PENURY- the changing culture of Indian journalism - JOURNALISM - Ethics, Codes, Laws Working on: - 'THE OUTHOUSE ON THE FIRST FLOOR - Coming of (Old)Age in India'

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