Afghan Girl is the title of one of the most famous photographs in the world of recent times, a hugely compelling portrait of a young Afghan woman whose intense gaze directly into the camera lens is once seen and never forgotten.
The photographer is Steve McCurry, one of the most renowned portrait photographers of our time. McCurry has covered many areas of international and civil conflict, including Burma, Sri Lanka, Beirut, Cambodia, the Philippines, the Gulf War, the former Yugoslavia, and continuing coverage of Afghanistan and Tibet. He focuses on the human consequences of war, not only showing what war impresses on the landscape, but rather, on the human face.
For the past 20 years he has been covering stories for National Geographic and other publications and it was for National Geographic that he shot the picture of the Afghan Girl when working along the Afghan border in 1985.
And although it is one of the most recognizable photographs in the world today, the identity of the Afghan girl was not known until recently.
After nearly two decades, McCurry finally succeeded in tracking down Sharbat Gula and had this to say of her: "Her skin is weathered, there are wrinkles now, but she is as striking as she was all those years ago."
Striking indeed, and all the more so because McCurry's portraits are unstaged, almost snapshots. The have a compelling quality to them, they are always emotionally moving and in them we have the privilege of looking deeply into the soul of another human being.
Is there a secret method, a way of working that ensures a photograph of such compelling beauty? If there is, perhaps it lies in McCurry's patience. As he says: "If you wait, people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view."
Perhaps the other secret to his ability to make great images is his sheer courage which won him the Best Photographer Reporting from Abroad award dedicated to photographers exhibiting exceptional courage and enterprise.
Right: In the Shadow of Mountains
He says: "Most of my images are grounded in people. I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person's face. I try to convey what it is like to be that person, a person caught in a broader landscape, that you could call the human condition."
McCurry's work has been featured in every major magazine in the world and frequently appears in National Geographic magazine with recent articles on Tibet, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and the temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
He has also published many books including The Imperial Way (1985), Monsoon (1988), Portraits (1999), South Southeast (2000), Sanctuary (2002), The Path to Buddha: A Tibetan Pilgrimage (2003), Steve McCurry (2005), Looking East (2006), In the Shadow of Mountains (2007), and The Unguarded Moment (2009).
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