It’s funny how memory works and how it recollects random observations we make of a given moment. Sometimes the things we remember aren’t really historic or so emotionally groundbreaking, sometimes they’re actually quite trivial details of a particular moment. I remember from years ago I was sitting in class, I don’t remember how many years ago or what class it was. The lights were turned off because we were shown a powerpoint presentation, I don’t remember by whom or of what the presentation was given. The popular kids were seated in the back of the class like usual, leaning back and balancing on the two hind legs of their chairs, occupied with their own version of playground gossip just as I was with my circle of friends a few rows in front of them. I remember silence overtaking the room as one particular slide showed up on the projector screen. It was a photograph of a child sitting on dry grounds, ribs protruding out of the skins of her torso. In the background, slightly off focus, was a vulture. That was the day I first saw the iconic Pulitzer winning photo shot by Kevin Carter of the vulture and the starving child. I don’t remember what I said after seeing that picture but I remembered feeling like I needed to get out of the room and run as far away from there as possible.
The only other thing I remembered from the presentation was that we were asked by the presenter on what we thought of the photograph. They asked us, “What do you think of this picture? Do you think it was the right thing to do to have taken that photo instead of actually helping the child? What would you have done in that situation?” The question really disconcerted me, I’m sure it did most if not all of my peers as well. We could not have been twelve at most. At the time I thought, “Well obviously something’s wrong with the guy if he insisted on clicking away at his camera as he watched the life extinguish out of a helpless child right before him!” which in retrospect seems kind of judgmental and off-putting of me to say. Then we were told that the photographer had died, committing suicide caused by the insufferable guilt as a direct result of the image that haunted him for the remainder of his life. Or so it was implied.
It was a memorable moment in my life because we were suddenly confronted by this very real and very complex question of prioritisation and purpose. Continue reading