Photojournalist are often criticized for 'not helping victims.' Yet what people often forget is they are already helping by spreading awareness in the world through their photographs.
In this photograph we see the agony of an unequal world where some have been left out and forgotten, and others enjoy a lifetime of privilege. The hand delicately holding the fragile one belongs to a missionary volunteer and is there to provide aid. The little hand belongs to a Ugandan boy, starvation has caused his body-mass to shrink to the point where the bones have become visible to the eye. This boy was one of the many victims of the famine that spread throughout Karamoja, Uganda, in the 1980s.
Photograph by Kevin Cater, "Starving Child and Vulture," (Sudan, 1993). Winner of a Pulitzer Prizer.
This photograph was taken by photojournalist Mike Wells in 1980. The following year he won the prize for the "World Press Photo of the Year". This image that became iconic and ingrained in the minds of many was taken while he was traveling around the world with the the Save the Children UK organization. Through his photographs, he wanted to spread the news about the devastating consequences of famine the region was living through. During this period of time, about 21% of the entire Karamoja region died. From those, 60% were part of the most vulnerable demographic, children, and they lost their lives to the famine and drought and the negligence of an unprepared and careless government.
Photograph by James Nachtwey, "Famine in Somalia," (Somalia, 1992).
Karamoja is one of the poorest districts in all of Uganda and one of the most arid as well, so it is constantly struggling with drought and animal death. The scarcity of resources also impacts employment opportunities, which are already scarce to begin with. To say that the region has been neglected by the authorities is putting it mildly. During the 80s, a famine hit the region and it was one of the most deadly recorded in history. The only famine that could top this record, was the Great Famine of the late 1600s, which took place in northern Europe and killed about 30% of the population.
Photograph by James Nachtwey, "Famine victim in a feeding center," (Sudan, 1993).
With a single image Wells mobilized the world and sparked an awareness of what was happening in that region, unfortunately it took five months for the image to be published, probably an editorial decision. His main intention was never to acquire fame or recognition, rather he just wanted to help spread the news around for the world so action could be taken to save as many lives as possible. He hated the idea of winning with images of dying children and desperate parents.
Photograph by James Nachtwey, "Child starved by famine, a man-made weapon of mass extermination." (Somalia, 1992).
In previous interviews, Wells had confessed his shame for taking the picture. Yet, it helped present a reality many were unaware of. Here we see the powerful role photography plays in incentivizing action, in how in this vast world, with so many stories weaving around each other, can we stop for a second and reflect the role we ourselves play in making our lives and those of our community better.
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