Last week’s entry about the iPhone Photography Award winners had an image in it that made me remember this famous photograph taken by Steve McCurry for the cover of The National Geographic. The photo has been called “the Afghan Mona Lisa” and is quite beautiful. The woman photographed, Sharbat Gula, was twelve at the time the photo was taken. Gula was orphaned by the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan. She escaped the war and fled into neighboring Pakistan with her siblings and grandmother. The famous photograph of her was taken when she was living in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp.
For many years, she was known only as “the Afghan girl” after the title of the photo. National Geographic says that this photo is probably the most famous cover image used in the history of their magazine. The search for the Afghan girl’s identity didn’t take place until 2002 after the removal of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Sharbat herself was unaware of the famous photograph until she and McCurry were reunited in 2002.
The Afghan girl photo has inspired other photographers to try to recreate the intensity and beauty in their own work. South African photographer Jodi Bieber cited McCurry’s photo as being the inspiration of her own photo of Bibi Aisha, a woman whose face had been disfigured by her husband and brother-in-law. National Geographic also set up an Afghan Girls education fund to help ensure that Afghan women and girls received education. Sharbat herself is living in Afghanistan with her husband and their three daughters and hopes that her children will receive the education that was interrupted for her when she had to flee the Soviets.
Do any of you remember seeing this photo on the cover of National Geographic? What did you think of it when you first saw it? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!