Steve McCurry

"Afghan Girl"

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Background History

This image entitled "Afghan Girl" was taken by Steve McCurry, and appeared on the cover of National Geographic in the year of 1985. McCurry was photographing a refugee camp in Pakistan, and in the "sea of tents", he noticed her first. While in the school tent, McCurry has stated since that, “[I] didn’t think the photograph of the girl would be different from anything else I shot that day”. This young refugee from Afghanistan, named Sharbat Gula, walked across the mountains to Pakistan and ended up in the Nasir Baghrefugee camp in Pakistan in 1984 after her parents were killed during the Soviet Union's bombing of Afghanistan when she was around six years old. While this perfect soft lighting and sharp contrast may seem to good to be true, it is indeed an action shot. Now regarded as one of the most recognizable photographs to come out of National Geographic, it famously captures the essence of war, and the raw emotion of its victims.


Like so many others, I really love this portrait for obvious reasons. In my opinion, the thing that sets this photograph apart from the others is the stunning colors. The red, almost dark orange color of her tattered shawl not only pairs nicely with her skin tone and hair, but pefectly compliments the sea green in the background, underdress, as well as in her stunning eyes. In one single shot, McCurry captured the girl's skepticism, fear, and heartache. In all honesty, If given the chance, I firmly believe that I would not change this photo in any way.

The Search

After 17 years of not knowing the identity of this young lady, a team from National Geographic set out to find her once more. Many people claimed they knew her, but upon further investigation, many of the stories did not hold up to be true. However, while at the camp the picture was originally taken at, they met a man who said that he knew her from his own childhood and could take them to her. After a trip to her native country of Afganistan, the team met what they believed to be her. Later on they confirmed her statements to be true on the basis of iris examination and further testing. The woman had rapidly aged due to the stresses of her life, but her eyes remained the same. In her life, her photo has only been taken on two occasions in her lifetime. Once in 1984, and again by the same photographer in 2002. Before the second occurrence she had never seen her famous portrait.
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For a larger story on her rediscovery, visit National Geographics article, "A Life Revealed", at