Monday, August 17, 2009

Who Is That Girl?

Since iconic The Afghan Girl's creation in Pakistan in 1984, and subsequent publication in National Geographic in 1985, it has become almost a modern Mona Lisa, making photographer Steve McCurry the Da Vinci of our times.

Sarah from Slumblog, the photog. Ethel to my photog. Lucy, got me a wonderful book of photography from the cover of which this girl's iconic eyes stare, following me around my dorm. Usually they're saying, "Seriously. Go study or go out and take pictures. Stop watching reality TV." Obviously that is just one small, shallow example of how this picture has affected lives around the world.

Steve McCurry has produced award winning photographs and stories in Beirut, Cambodia, Afghanistan, India and much more. Indeed, since buying a one way ticket to India in 1978, with nothing but a couple thousand dollars and a suitcase full of 250 rolls of Kodachrome film, he has become one of the best living photographers to date.
For 17 years since he took the picture in a Peshawar, Pakistan refugee camp he had been looking for her without success. When he heard that the camp was about to be razed to make room for a housing project, McCurry decided to visit for the first time since taking the picture.

After going to the camp and passing her photo around to village elders, who in turn showed it to their friends and contacts, there were several false leads: one man said it was his wife, a girl with an "uncanny" likeness insisted she was the famous girl in the photo. Time passed and frustrations mounted with each dead end. Then, a man came forward saying that the girl had lived next door to him a decade ago, and a few days later came back to McCurry with this girl's brother- who happened to share the same unique eye color with the Afghan Girl.

Still sceptical, McCurry and his team negotiated with the girl's husband, until finally they met Sharbat Gula, and Steve knew instantly it was the girl from his famous photograph.

"When she came out, it was clear that this was absolutely the same girl," McCurry said. "There was no question in my mind that this was the girl. The eyes were the same, she had the same distinctive scar on her nose. All the facial features matched up. I instantly knew that this was the girl."

High-tech iris and facial recognition tests as well as an FBI forensic examiner later confirmed that the woman and girl were indeed the same person, although McCurry needed no confirmation. Sharbat is a married mother to three girls, living in a remote ethnic region of Pushtun in Pakistan. The photographer maintains that Gula's eyes have retained all their fire and intensity. She has aged, "but I think she's still quite beautiful despite all the hardship that people have to endure there."
Steve McCurry will be helping Gula to provide an education for her three girls, and for her to fulfill her dream of making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Now, this all happened in 2002, but it's still a heart-wrenching story, non? I caught an article about it because Steve McCurry was recently awarded the last roll of Kodachrome film, and an exhibit of his work will be on display at Colorodo's solar-powered Open Shutter Gallery from August 21 to October 1st. Road trip anyone?

Watch this interview ith Steve McCurry down below, and check out his book Looking East: Portraits by Steve McCurry.
Photographs courtesy of Steve McCurry.


  1. i swear, i never lose interest when i look at this photo. it's been one of my favorites for years. birthday present? eh eh? but anyways, thanks for doing the research on this-i had seen the picture of the older her but never connected the dots :)

  2. haha you're welcome- but thank NPR, they did the two articles and I just followed the trail.

    that would be a poetic gift, wouldn't it?