Looking at Steve McCurry’s picture of a twelve–year–old girl, who fled her native country, Afghanistan, in 1983 for a Pakistan’s refugee camp, the viewer becomes amazed and deeply touched by the girl’s haunting eyes, her tattered and ragged clothes that tell the viewer about her plight position and disparity. In accordance with the critics, “No doubt that it is one of the greatest pictures of the NG and the history … It’s the face of twelve – year old Afghan girl in a refugee camp in Pakistan …” (Denker, 1985).
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The history of the image is quite dramatic. In 1983, the photographer from National Geographic magazine – Steve Mc Curry got the image of this girl, who had walked for a couple of weeks from her native Afghanistan before getting to a refugee camp located in Pakistan. It is significant that this particular photograph became a symbol of those people’s suffrage, their strength, and pain, who become refugees and must leave their native lands, homes in order to escape danger, hostility, and persecution.
It is a well-known fact that in accordance with Afghanistan cultural rules, strangers are forbidden to take pictures of Afghanistan girls and women. Nevertheless, this picture, full of pain and disparity, was published on the front cover of National Geographic magazine, and then became one of the most widespread and reproduced refugee photos all over the world. As for Steve Mc Curry’s career, it raised up after he presented his photographs made in Afghanistan and Pakistan: “These images won him the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad, an award dedicated to photographers exhibiting exceptional courage and enterprise” (Denker, 1985).
The famous photographer says, “Most of my photos are grounded in people … I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face” (Mc Curry, 2001). One of such moments was immortalized by him in the haunted eyes of a twelve–year–old girl, a refugee in Afghanistan – Pakistan’s border.
The girl’s penetrating and poignant green eyes, shock the viewer with the hints of disparity and fear, as the military helicopters caused the damages of her native village and the death of her family members, forcing her to escape to the refugee camp through the perilous and dangerous mountains of Afghanistan. “This portrait summed up for me the trauma and plight, and the whole situation of suddenly having to flee your home and end up in refugee camp, hundreds of miles away” (Denker, 1985), the photographer says of the given picture after its representation on the front cover of the National Geographic magazine in June 1985.
This picture reveals Steve Mc Curry’s perception of the world through the special inimitable and unguarded moments, which he captured. When looked into the eyes of that Afghanistan girl, he saw fear, disparity mixed with dignity and fortitude. As the photographer says himself, “Life [in Afghanistan] is often harsh and unforgiving, but its people accept the challenges with resilience and often with a sense of humor” (Mc Curry, 2001). The attitude of the author and other people toward this picture and those feelings and ideas beyond it, determine their understanding of the world. Such works, like this, may also change some other people’s perception of the surrounding reality.
Denker, Debra. Along Afghanistan’s War – torn Frontier. National Geographic. 1985.
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Mc Curry, Steve. Interview, Steve Mc Curry: Unveiling the Face of War. National Geographic. 2001.