I have been aware of the Pulitzer Prize winning image by Kevin Carter for several years now, and also I knew of his subsequent suicide. Last night I sat down and watched the movie The Bang Bang Club and was surprised to see that his life and demise were part of the story line.
A few scenes in the movie brought back memories of my early career as a photojournalist, and there are some things that I found I really missed. I saw the characters in the movie inside the newspaper offices, waiting to see each others' film and discussing the assignments, the connection of the photographers with each other, understanding how hard it was to get some images and those were things I missed. It reminded my of my days working as a lab technician and then photo editor at The Minnesota Daily. It reminded me of times when people actually cared about the work we were doing and we pushed each other to get better.
Then the movie showed the scenes of strong emotion, the bodies on the ground and the conflict between getting an image and being a human being, and those things were a big part of the reason I left the newspaper. No, I was never a conflict photographer, but I have seen and photographed a number of corpses. Some horrifically mangled by trains or motor vehicles. I have spent hours crouched behind a car while a man with a gun holds police at bay. I have been to funerals and photographed the grief of the people who have lost their loved ones, and the face of a woman watching her house burn down a few days before Christmas. I have had a teenage girl push and punch at me because I was there as her trailer house burned.
Being a photojournalist is more than being able to show up and push a button - it is being able to push the button when nobody thinks you should, and making it matter.
The list of photographers who have died getting their images is very long. The question is, do these images really make a difference in the world?