KEVIN CARTER was the third South African photographer to die this year, the first to do so by his own hand. Abdul Shariff and Carter's best friend, Ken Oosterbroek, fell to stray bullets in the township wars. Carter, who won a Pulitzer prize this year, was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in his car on Wednesday.
The photograph which won him the Pulitzer showed a vulture eyeing a starving, skeletal Sudanese child. Upon returning barely two weeks ago from the Pulitzer ceremony in New York, where he also picked up a contract with Time magazine, he told friends he felt he had the world at his feet.
What torments drove him to undergo a mood-swing so calamitously abrupt is a question best left to his family and close friends to contemplate. What journalists in South Africa know is that he was one of those photographers who live life on the extreme edge, who routinely encounter a degree of horror, sorrow and danger comparable only to the experience of a soldier at a time of war. His work for a number of South African newspapers will best be remembered for the harrowing scenes of township violence he would capture day in day out during the four violent years which preceded majority rule.
He was as talented as he was brave. At times recklessly, self-destructively brave. On the morning after Oosterbroek was killed Carter was back again in the very same township, Thokoza, at 5am.
His friends said that one thing that distinguished him from many of his colleagues was a passionate involvement with the people and places where he worked. He could not keep himself at one remove from his subjects. He lacked the emotional armour-plating characteristic of the front-line photographer. After taking the picture of the little Sudanese child he sat down, smoked a packet of cigarettes and wept for four hours.