Visual Analysis

Pulitzer Prize Winner

This photograph won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1994 and was taken by Kevin Carter while covering the famine in Sudan in 1993.  The picture is a heart-wrenching photo of a young girl struggling to make it to the United Nations camp that was distributing food to the starving people of the area.  Kevin Carter received heavy criticism following the publication of the photo in The New York Times on March 26, 1993.  Several months after receiving the prize he committed suicide, leaving his photos behind as his legacy.

From a technical standpoint, humans’ eyes will be naturally drawn to the “thirds” of the photos.  At two of the intersections of the thirds (the top left and the bottom right) there is a vulture and the starving child.  The vulture and the child are the only subjects that stand out against the barren background in the first place, but having them at the thirds of the photograph draws the attention of the viewer even more by taking the photo in a way that presents the main subjects as the natural center of their focus.  In an analysis of the photo on thenakedvoid.com the bareness and simplicity of the photo is stated as helping the photo to become a bigger metaphor for the famine in Sudanese.  This serves Kevin Carter’s photo very well as he was there to cover the famine and its effects.  What becomes even more important, though, is the subject that the viewer’s eyes are drawn to.

People are particularly sensitive to photographs involving children.  When people see children they typically think of their own children or children they know and the innocence they typically possess.  People frequently admire the wide-eyed innocence that can be found in children, particularly because they have not yet been exposed to the hardships and difficult experiences that will be experienced as they mature.  Seeing a child in a pain or suffering is most painful for people because they have not done anything to deserve it, while photographs of adults in such situations may elicit a more reserved response.  Therefore the emaciated body of the young girl suffering in Sudan would already by itself produce an intense reaction of revulsion from nearly all people.  It is evident in her extremely thin limbs and pronounced ribs that the child is starving.  It can also be judged that she is in extreme pain from the fact that she is doubled over and apparently unable to support her own weight.  The visual evidence present in the photograph is supported by the fact that Sudan was suffering a severe famine at the time and many Sudanese were dying from starvation.  What makes the picture so visually compelling, however, is the vulture standing in the background.

The presence of the vulture, a scavenger, immediately conveys to the viewer that the child is near death.  So close, in fact, that animals are waiting to feed on the body of the child once it passes.  This is what causes the photograph to be so compelling; the child is so obviously close to death that a vulture is waiting just feet behind it.  This is what caused much of the backlash the photo received following its publication.

People criticized the photographer, Kevin Carter, for not helping the child, for simply taking a picture while the child needed help and was about to die.  The picture is a single snapshot of time, though, and does not tell the full story of what happened that day.  The reporters had been told not to touch the Sudanese because many were carrying diseases.  There were also conflicting reports from those that were there.  Some claimed that the mother of the girl was behind the photographer waiting for food, others that the child was not the only one and that it would be impossible to save one without saving the rest.  He was also a photojournalist, a profession with the principle of recording what happens without interfering or having an effect on it.  With all of the possibilities of the situation it is not right for those that were not there to judge what Carter should have done.  Regardless, many still did, and just three months after receiving the Pulitzer Prize, he committed suicide.

Works Cited:

“The Vulture Culture: On Kevin Carter’s Sudanese Photo.” ø – The Naked Void. Web. 13 Feb. 2011. <http://thenakedvoid.com/blog/nikola/the-vulture-culture-on-kevin-carters-sudanese-photo&gt;.

 

The Death of Che

This famous photograph of Ernesto “Che” Guevara was taken the day after he was executed and was released to prove that he had been killed.  While initially intended to quell the support and fanatical idolization of Guevara, the picture served to bolster his cause, as comparisons were made of his body to the body of Christ being taken from the cross, and the supposed look of tranquility and forgiveness on his face.  The picture served to immortalize the legacy of Guevara and thus has had quite an impact.

One of the most immediately noticeable aspects of the photograph is the presence of lines in the photo.  Straight vertical lines suggest a sense of stability and dignity.  Straight lines can be drawn through each of the men standing behind the body of Guevara.  This implies that the men responsible for the execution were dignified and promotes a sense of stability following the death of Guevara.  The prominent, straight lines that are implied by the men standing behind the dead body set the tone that the military wanted to convey with the photo, that they were the authority and in charge, and were providing needed stability in the area.

Contrast also plays a large role in the initial reaction of viewing the photo.  All of the men in the photo except for Guevara have dark jackets on.  Guevara’s exposed, light chest immediately draws attention to his body, making it the focal point of the picture.  Contrast also ties in with the previously mentioned lines.  Guevara’s body forms a diagonal line, a stark contrast to the straight vertical lines of the men behind him.  This is another effect that causes the body of Guevara to the focus of the picture.  An additional contrast evident in the photo is seen in the faces of the men.  Many describe Guevara’s facial expression to appear peaceful and relaxed.  Whether or not the facial expression of the deceased body is relaxed or not, it would appear to be so no matter what because of the serious, anxious and taut faces present on the men around him.

Another interesting feature of the photograph is the lighting present in the room.  The light comes from the left resulting in the shading of the right of Guevara’s body.  The right side of his face is nearly completely obscured from vision.  This obscuration of Guevara’s face helps to contribute to the peaceful and forgiving look that many have described to be present on his face.  The lighting also makes the brightest part of the picture Guevara’s left cheek and center of chest, which comprises the center of the picture, once again drawing the viewer’s attention to that area.

The picture of Che Guevara’s dead body has many elements that affect how it is viewed.  Although a simple picture upon its initial viewing, deeper analysis reveals the elements that affect how it is perceived.


2 Comments on “Visual Analysis”

  1. Does your comment board send you emails? -Dustin


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