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I had an interesting conversation with a woman while I was out shooting the Redlands Bicycle Classic a week or so ago. She started talking to me about the photo of the child who was being stalked by the vulture and asked me if I had seen it. I’m a photographer, of course I’d seen it! What nerve. She went on about how the photographer who took it, Kevin Carter, had been dogged by media about why he took the shot and hadn’t helped the child. Odd conversation while sitting in a gutter shooting a time trial. But I’ve been thinking about that photo ever since.
This past week the world also lost a drag racing legend named Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins. Grumpy was a racer and engine builder. His demeanor and engines were legendary. He’s one of those guys that helped define the sport of drag racing from the muscle car era on. My father raced back in the hay day and many times I’ve heard him speak of Grumpy. Getting to see him race and the hi-light of all was just getting to shake his hand. History, man, history. I wasn’t there of course but the photos speak to me. I can feel the excitement and the ground rumble beneath my feet just by seeing a car with smoke billowing out of the wheel wells as the Christmas tree lights turn green….all in a photo.
I’m a photographer. I record history. My job is to make people feel like they were at an event, show the beauty, the speed, the crowds, the heartbreak and all the little details that make you remember. Sometimes this comes easily and sometimes it can be a burden. Of course it’s not the burden that Kevin Carter had to carry after he took the photo of the child and vulture, but still a burden. I took this photo of George Hincapie at the 2011 USPRO Championships that I held onto for a while. He missed winning the stars and stripes jersey by a tire width. He was crushed. I was crushed. After the race big George was surrounded by family and I pushed and nudged my way through the crowd to get to him. When I got there it was a sad scene but I kept shooting. My favorite photo from those moments really spoke to me and I was proud of it but I kept it mostly to myself. I like George and he’s a bit of a hero to me so I didn’t want to show him in a vulnerable scene. Several months later ROAD magazine called to get a photo for a big spread and asked for my favorite photo of the season. I chose the shot of George and his family.
Sometimes history isn’t always what we want it to be. I had hoped George would win that day but he didn’t. When I got that photo published I realized that I had done the job that I set out to do, and while it was a little out of my comfort zone for shooting, it was all a part of history on that day. In the end I actually had George contact me and he told me how much he liked the shot and that he wanted a print of it for the memory. Go figure.
The photograph of the child with the vulture caused outrage in some and extreme sadness in others. Sadly, Kevin Carter couldn’t live with the burden of that photo and committed suicide only 3 months after taking it. It’s sad that Carter couldn’t be around to see the change in humanitarian efforts that his powerful image helped to bring about. He pulled emotions out of people whom before had barely payed attention…..all in a photo.
I may never produce such a strong image. I surely hope I never have that type of burden to live with. But as a photographer I will continue to record history and do my best to make people feel something, anything, with my images.
History, we all contribute.