Review: 102 Minutes That Changed America

This post was written by Guest Post on September 8, 2009
Posted Under: Media,Reviews,Terrorism

Guest post by Carl Packman

102 Minutes That Changed America, the brave documentary that aired on Channel 4 yesterday, made for very tough viewing.

The camera was very intrusive, and actually seemed to infuriate people, but it did what was best in documenting some very sombre and terrifying moments. People, covered in dust and debris, would wave their hands as if to say I’ve been in there, fuck off with your camera, and against their sensitivities managed to catch both their anger and their vulnerabilities. The viewer asks themselves the important question, definitely on the lips of those commissioning the programme: is watching this programme not tantamount to voyeurism, or, should I be watching these terrified people in their terror climaxes?

The answer should be no, but what is posterity worth? When Kevin Carter, the nobel prize winning photographer, was asked about filming South African necklacing – the act of filling a rubber tyre with petrol, placing it round a victims neck and setting on fire – he replied:

“I was appalled at what they were doing. I was appalled at what I was doing. But then people started talking about those pictures… then I felt that maybe my actions hadn’t been at all bad. Being a witness to something this horrible wasn’t necessarily such a bad thing to do.”

It was in 1993 that Carter took the photograph of a small girl in famine ridden Sudan, that took him to the long road of depression. What should a photographer do, should s/he attempt to help the subject, does art trump life, what moral proximity does the artist have towards his or her subject if any, and should this jeopardise his or her art or commitment?

It was these questions, and many more that Carter suffered before he took his own life at the age of 33 by taping one end of a hose to his pickup truck’s exhaust pipe and running the other end to the passenger-side window.

Robert Capa, the Spanish civil war photographer famous for his photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, was held in very high esteem for his very graphic and personal display of the other war against fascism. This year a Spanish professor, José Manuel Susperregui, published a book titled Shadows of Photography, which demonstrated that Capa’s photograph could not have been taken where it was alleged to have been, using separate photographic evidence.

Tough as it may be, sometimes, in order to save your corner, you have to come clean on your allies. In order to keep the Spanish Republican message alive, and by saving the right from using it to their advantage, the truth of Capa had to be released. Similarly, two Canadian documentary filmmakers were once making a film on Michael Moore, the leftwing polemicist, from a supportive bent. However, after weeks of specialising in the remit of Moore, they soon realised that much of his work was born out fiction, covered behind the gonzo-esque, perverting the realm of the anti-war movement in America – which obviously needed all the support it could gather. The point of the filmmakers’ – Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine – efforts could not have been better summed up by the title of their film; Manufacturing Dissent.

The above references – if they have any common theme – is to try and communicate a truth, even if using methods that don’t exactly weigh up as such. Kevin Carter’s profile as one who captures a truth haunted him until his dying day, Capa was willing to stage events in order to send a message across the world detailing the horrors of the Francoist regime – even if this event was fictitious. Sometimes the only way an artist can record the nearest representation to truth, is by recreating it, sometimes truth is not real enough. Perhaps Michael Moore could argue this case also, but two leftist documentary filmmakers were willing to spill the beans to save their corner.

These are the criteria for infiltrating the truth as its happening, for limiting ones own remit to that of the artist – the bearer of the potentially worldwide message – and not the saviour, or at least not in any immediate sense. Does Channel 4′s 9/11 documentary do just that? I’d risk saying not in this instance, the location shots seemed brave, and there was no fear of tweaking the truth of the events, only it seemed to mostly interfere. For what it’s worth, it did capture emotion fraught with fear, but did this hold the same weight as say Kevin Carter, or was it perversion, a glimpse at vulnerability for a public energised by action? I’d risk an accusation of the latter.

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Reader Comments

Kevin Carter’s only intervention was the chase the vulture away from that girl. It pained him for the rest of his life that he didn’t try to save her. Journalists are humans too. Whatever their commitment to truth, it cannot override their moral obligations as human beings.

#1 
Written By Salman Shaheen on September 8th, 2009 @ 11:34 pm

Yes you’re right, Kevin Carter was all too human in this instance, for his formal discipline as truth seeker, objective documentary film maker, was immediately overridden, this was to be the narrow slope into despair for Carter. And this is the crucial distinction between Carter and the series of photojournalists whose videos were collated on 102 minutes…, it was at once the safety and overproximity of Carter’s situation that rendered his art part of the canon, though for the photojournalists themselves, it was their overproximity alone that engaged its audience into the panicky nightmare.

In both instances, what is most disturbing is our viewing it, how to view it and so on. Is our engagement, our voyeurism, not without a lump in the throat?

#2 
Written By Carl on September 9th, 2009 @ 12:01 am

Interesting and thought-provoking post.

Kevin Carter belonged to the infamous Bang-Bang Club. One critic argued re Carter’s Pulitzer: “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene.”

I think that picture Carter took pushed him over the edge mentally hence the suicide. He documented death, political turmoil and violence continuously, and with that level of engagement it would probably mess with anyone’s head. But when I first read about the details around Carter’s picture I did wonder myself why he didn’t carry that child to the food station. Why didn’t he intervene? Was he not responsible as well?

From my own personal point of view during the past couple of years I have taken up photography mainly as a way to document the organisation of the labour movement esp. the representation of women.

Reading your post made me think of Sontag’s book on Photography. Actually, this post has made me think about these issues esp. the purpose and importance of documentation, along with responsibility and accountability. It kinda reminds me of the citizen journalism capturing the brutality and violence of the cops from the G20 protests.

Also it is interesting to analyse our reaction to these images (the issue of voyeurism is one aspect that interests me), the feelings and emotions that are thrown up.

Sorry if this sounds disjointed but it is a bit of a stream of consciousness.

#3 
Written By HarpyMarx on September 9th, 2009 @ 2:36 pm
Matt

Interesting article.

I didn’t know anything much about Kevin Carter – apart from the MSP song about him.

On his wikipedia page there is an alternative story of the photograph given by Joao Silva – who was with Carter at the time of the famine girl’s photograph.

The story makes it sound as if Carter had, like Capa, used a fictious element to portray the truth (The girl’s mother was only yards away collecting food from a UN aid plane).

#4 
Written By Matt on September 9th, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

Well, you know what they say. Vulture stalked white piped lie forever, wasted your life in black and white, Kevin Carter, Kevin Carter, Kevin Carter. Couldn’t have put it better myself…

#5 
Written By Salman Shaheen on September 9th, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

It’s such a powerful song from the Manics.

#6 
Written By HarpyMarx on September 9th, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

Grateful for your kind comments.

Happymarx, Sontag is an extremely crucial source on artistic ethics, and I think she would’ve had a lot to say on the topic of 102 minutes. It would be an interesting notion if the Mother of the small girl was close by, collecting food. The obvious question here is whether Carter had been justified in capturing the shot if, against all odds, food and nourishment was at hand. I’m not an expert, but this does pose problems to the phenomenological nexus the art of photography seeks to display, but in terms of photojournalism and artistic commitment, Carter’s piece was influential of change, whether true or fictional.

Its little known, but when I saw the pro- turned anti-Michael Moore documentary in Edinburgh, I was appalled, for all the wrong reasons. I was lucky enough to be at a Q and A with the filmmakers and I questioned them on their commitment, especially given Moore’s status as war critic, and how crucial American voices were, few and far between they were too. But over time I saw that better they, as leftwingers, gave the game away than rightwingers who would use it to strengthen their case. Furthermore, if they are elements to a leftwing polemicists’ film that are purely for dramatic effect – as their film demonstrated of Moore – then despite their political weight in general, this is counterproductive, and simply an insult to the rest of the anti-war left who once claimed Moore as one of their own.

If I seem to be making an incongruous point, I’d like to suggest that Carter’s falsehood is purely speculative, Capa’s is a real pity albeit with a real truth, Moore’s deception is seemingly needless. I can feel the topic of art versus politics emerging, so I’ll just admit that were it not for the song Kevin Carter by the Manics, its possible I would’ve been introduced to his work a little later than I actually had, so I concur how influential that song is.

#7 
Written By Carl on September 9th, 2009 @ 9:53 pm
nelly

kevin Carter did his job, risking his life. He took that picture and made the world aware of what is happening in the world. It is time to stop critisising and start acting!!!!!

#8 
Written By nelly on August 7th, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

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