Society & Culture

The Hidden Truth Behind the Infamous National Geographic ‘Afghan Girl’ Photo

Agencies – Sudan Events

Wrapped in a worn maroon shawl with piercing green eyes and a stare that penetrates the camera, Sharbat Gula’s portrait has become an iconic photograph. Whether or not you’re a regular reader of National Geographic, you’ve inevitably encountered this photo captured by Steven McCurry, famously known as the ‘Afghan Girl’, on the magazine’s June 1985 cover. However, astonishingly, Gula herself did not lay eyes on the photo until 17 years later.

The photo’s accompanying caption, “Haunted eyes tell of an Afghan refugee’s fears,” widely interpreted as a symbol of Afghan refugee distress, masks the probable unease and fear Gula felt towards McCurry during the shoot.

In a revealing 2002 interview, Gula expressed her emotions for the first time about the moment the photo was taken and disclosed that she “remembers her anger”. “That photo created a lot of problems for me […] I would have preferred it had never been taken” says Gula. “I remember that day well, that photographer who arrived at the Nasir Bagh camp school. I was a child. I didn’t like photos. In Afghan culture, women do not appear in photos. But there wasn’t much choice”

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