Journalism and being the second vulture

7/24/12

This is Kevin Cater’s most disturbing and award winning photo, which should be named as the photo of the century. More than the photo itself, Carters life and death come to my mind time to time. It is the ultimate tragic story of mankind… his death is a monument to the tragedy of replacing the human means with materialized objectives.


As a photo journalist he managed to capture the baby and vulture correctly in his camera. He did it, because that was his assignment there. He won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for his work. When thousands of people who were disturbed with the photo ask what happened to the child Carter didn’t have an answer. Then only it was realized that he just concentrated on taking the photo, but not helping the dying child. Also Carter had told his colleagues that he had been waiting to see if vulture would spread the wings; which would have given chance to a better photo! Later on Carter committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.


Carter’s story just highlights the tragic of forgetting the primary responsibilities of a man.  Before you become a photographer, before you become a journalist you are a man and that’s never changed. You are not paid for that… you are not honored for that, but that’s the responsibility carry on your shoulder when you are born.

One critique on Carters photo redefined photographer as the second vulture in the scene. It is not unfair at all. Vulture in the photo is an opportunistic bird, and so is the photographer in that occasion. What is the difference….?

In context of Sri Lanka, we see propagating a lot of web media that reports and analyze social issues to gossips. In spite of the debut of credibility of some such media, we also find it difficult to understand the vision behind some of the reporting. When we had the war, of course we had to hear the bitter news of human deaths in day to day basis. Now war is over and we don’t need to hear those, unless as a news. When it is a brutal killing or raping happen, some media seems to be doing a good job by giving them a massive publicity… In most cases, like Kevin Carter’s photo, there seems to have had two (probably more) vultures by the name of journalism.

How many lives we actually got?

When discussing above post with someone, it raised us to the discussion of role of a photo journalist.  Some conclusions, more or less, were as below.

“What else photo journalist could do than taking the photos. He is not there to do the job of a welfare worker”

Then my mind raised the question to me. Then why Kevin got depressed by the comments. Why people around world kept on asking whether he helped the poor girl. This is a serious question to me. This puzzle drags me to think deeper about definitions of each role we play in life.

Sometimes we are pleased to say that we had to do something according to my profession. As a journalist I had to report that. As a soldier I had to kill. As a politician I had to decide that way. As a scientist I had to create an effective bomb. If you believe in God, what is the life you carry in your shoulders when you meet him? Can you exclude your professional life? Can I justify a crime by explaining it in terms of my profession? Is there any limit of this?

After 9/11 CIA hired two psychologists (i.e. Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell) to train UA servicemen on effective torturing methods, known as SERE programme, which is even against the Geneva conventions. May be Bruce or James could think, professionally they had to do that. Most of all, society accepts them not like a killer works under labelled terrorist organization.

This is a big question in my mind. I think “professional” label is another myth implemented by post capitalist system to justify something unethical. I know a chemist who work for manufacturing company of Baby oils, but never use them for her babies since they are bad for health. She was kind enough to tell all the friends not to use those kinds of oils. Anyway, “Professionally” she is making them for thousands of other babies... All other professionals too are to do these kinds of justified jobs.

In today’s context we even say you should not mixed up professional life and day-to-day life. This sounds like, what we do as “professionals” will be not be tolerated by the values of a day-to-day life that believes in mankind and humanity. Is it?

From recent years I have been thinking of unified systems as an answer for these contradictions of life. Though, I am not a historian, I am pretty sure ancient civilizations didn’t work with categorised objectives as we do today. Each ones goal is to be inter-connected. In Sri Lankan context, I believe ancient farming or manufacturing didn’t raised problems of environment. Can we claim a massive structure like Sigiriya would have destroyed the adjoining surroundings or its lives? I guess this harmony should have been same for all other early civilizations.

Today, Banker is interested in cash circulation and farmer is interested in fertile lands. Power generating companies interested only in generating power, but not the environmental pollutions. Environmentalists too are programmed to go against each and every development plan without knowing how their houses are provided with power and how their vehicles are supplied with fuel.

This funny system recalls me of my wedding! Photographer just wanted to have most successful photo sessions. Dress maker wanted to make a success by producing best bride and that’s her aspect of wedding. She was not interested in anything else than that. DJ wanted to make it a big music extravaganza and decorators wanted to bring most beautiful flower arrangements under this sun and moon. Individual goals seemed to be over ruling the main objective sometimes. Ultimately, I and my wife were the only people who wanted a successful wedding.

Even under this situations, sometimes some people work according to the call of their hearts.  I can recall two simple experiences I came across. When we head to tsunami affected areas in 2004 in Sri Lanka to help people, my friend, obsessed photographer, Roshan came without a camera which surprised me. He simply said “we are going to help people aren’t we?” Second occasion was.. my cousin, Kasun gave up aeronautical engineering after spending successful years in university, when he learnt all the leading researches are focused on advancement of fighter jets but not passenger planes.  In both occasions, they could have done the opposite since they have been justified by the civilization. Anyway, their hearts might have given a different judgement.

If we turn back to Kevin’s story, he should have had a struggle on his stance.  If he was a super product of post capitalist monetary system he shouldn’t have suffered from depression. If he was a super product of humane purity, he shouldn’t have left the toddler along with the vulture. Kevin’s tragic story can be quote close to our story also. Have to be wise when working with so called “professionalism” comes bundled with requirements of monetary system, not the requirements of mankind.

For me I have only one question. There are no many lives called professional life, family life and etc... I got only one life. Question is whether I live it truthfully to my heart or not.

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