Afghan Girl – A Life Revealed

Photograph by Steve McCurry National Geographic

This is the story of the photograph taken in 1984 by Steve McCurry and used as the front cover of the National Geographic in June 1985. As nothing was known about this girl and what happened to her, seventeen years later she was seeked out, and in April 2002 all was revealed. This then questions “does a photographer need to be more aware of the images they capture?”.

The original image was captured regarding the refugee crisis, during the war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. McCurry documenting the ‘Nasir Bagh’ refugee camp, stumbles on the young girl, thats image would touch so many. Would this image have been more or less powerful, if we knew a little bit of detail of the girl? To me the power of the image is the eyes, it highlights the strength of emotion that can be captured within the eyes.

To be able to find this girl, now known as Sharbat Gula, which means “sweetwater flower girl” in Pashtu, the language of her Pashtun tribe, is quit remarkable. During times of atrocity that can be associated with times like this, people can and do get lost in the system. The chance meeting with a man, that was at the refugee camp with Sharbat Gula, and knowing how to contact her, is like a Hollywood Movie.

The emotion in the most recent photo is not as strong in my view. Is this because there is no sign of anger or not as much fear in her expression, or is it the fact that we know who she is. I am not saying that the image is a bad one, just it is not as strong. To me the fact that we now know who she is is great. Credit to everyone that was involved in the finding of Sharbat Gula, and finding out her story. The fact we now know all this does not restrict the power of the original image, if anything it just emphasises the emotion of the image.

With what we now know about Sharbat Gula, and her hardship, and that it has personally added to the emotion of the original image, does it highlight the need of Photo Journalists to record detail of their subject matter, while capturing their images.


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