Saturday, June 25, 2011


Afghan Girl
Nasir Bagh refugee camp, 1984
Peshawar, Pakistan

Steve McCurry was born in Philadelphia, and graduated from Pennsylvania State University. After working at a newspaper for two years, he left to freelance in India.
His career was launched when, wearing native clothing, he crossed the Pakistan border into rebel-controlled Afghanistan just before the Russian invasion. When he emerged, he had rolls of film sewn into his clothes that contained some of the world's first images of the conflict. His coverage won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad Showing Courage and Enterprise. He has won numerous awards including the National Press Photographers' Association award for Magazine Photographer of the Year and an unprecedented four first prizes in the World Press Photo contest.

Steve McCurry
Author Ahmet Sel

McCurry has covered many areas of international and civil conflict, including the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, Beirut, Cambodia, the Philippines, the Gulf War and continuing coverage of Afghanistan. His work has been featured in magazines around the globe. His reportage for National Geographic has included Tibet, Afghanistan, Burma, India, Iraq, Yemen, Buddhism, and the temples of Angkor Wat.
A high point in his career was finding Sharbat Gula, the previously unidentified Afghan refugee girl, whose picture has been described as one of the most recognizable photographs in the world.
Sharbat Gula’s piercing gaze on the cover of National Geographic came to symbolize the plight of refugees around the world. Her identity was unknown until she was found again in 2002.
It was a long and a tedious journey to find this girl who is basically a woman today in a war torn country of Afghanistan. McCurry stated that he had searched though the whole of the 90’s but there was no sign of her, and eventually it was after 9/11 when he had the opportunity to intensify the search for this green eyed girl. After Steve found her, he felt like it was a miracle and that this whole journey to find her was very emotional indeed. When he was asked about Afghanistan and the feeling that pulls him to this country every time, he stated that this country and its people have always been inspirational to him. It is his specialty of color-saturated images foreground the human in times of war, which he brings out in photographs. And foremost it is the sense of respect and responsibility towards his subjects that makes his work incomparable.

The Afghan Girl
June 1985 issue of National Geographic magazine

In January a team from National Geographic Television & Film's EXPLORER brought McCurry to Pakistan to search for the girl with green eyes. They showed her picture around Nasir Bagh, the still standing refugee camp near Peshawar where the photograph had been made. A teacher from the school claimed to know her name. A young woman named Alam Bibi was located in a village nearby, but McCurry decided it wasn't her.
No, said a man who got wind of the search. He knew the girl in the picture. They had lived at the camp together as children. She had returned to Afghanistan years ago, he said, and now lived in the mountains near Tora Bora. He would go get her.
It took three days for her to arrive. Her village is a six-hour drive and three-hour hike across a border that swallows lives. When McCurry saw her walk into the room, he thought to himself: This is her.
Names have power, so let us speak of hers. Her name is Sharbat Gula, and she is Pashtun, that most warlike of Afghan tribes. It is said of the Pashtun that they are only at peace when they are at war, and her eyes—then and now—burn with ferocity. She is 28, perhaps 29, or even 30. No one, not even she, knows for sure. Stories shift like sand in a place where no records exist.
(Cathy Newman nationalgeographic. com)

Afghan Girl before and after, 1984 (L) and 2002 (R)

“Even after all these years, I still find the image powerful. Her eyes have retained their fire and intensity. I think she's still quite beautiful despite all the hardship she had to endure.
It was one of those cases, where all the elements of the picture came together in a magical way; the light, the background, what she was wearing, her body language and her expression. I had a good sense that this would make a powerful, emotionally charged portrait, but it didn’t really hit me until I was looking at it in print. I don’t think a week has gone by for 15 or however many years that I still don’t get requests from people, trying to get information on her.
Over the years, we received so many letters and emails, I was determined to find her again. Finding her 17 years later made a big impact on my life. When we found her, we all knew it was her. They wanted to do a scientific check by examining a picture of the iris of her eye against the iris of the original picture, but we all knew it was her.”
(Steve McCurry Interview at
There is probably no photographer alive with quite as recognizable a photograph as the Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry. Originally published by National Geographic Magazine in 1985, Steve’s icon graced the cover …the most famous cover shot of all time….obviously it is the EYES that just kill us….stop us dead in our tracks….and even though we have seen this photograph thousands of times in the last 25 years, we still have to stop and take a look….photographically it is just a simple portrait…..taken straight on in just flat light (in a refugee tent)….there is nothing so remarkable about the picture, until her gaze simply bores a hole into your heart….
(David Alan Harvey, Magnum Photographer at

Steve Mc Curry at Union Square , New York
Author David Alan Harvey
Magnum Photographer

1 comment:

Mike Payne said...

This was ALWAYS one of my VERY FAVORITE photographs. As a photographer myself, I love the "HONESTY" of an un posed subject. A person caught in the very perfect moment, that digs into your brain and lets you into the thoughts and feelings of the subject. A PERFECT CAPTURE by Steve McCurry.
Mike Payne.