Despite their superficial similarity, these two images tell very different stories.
According to Tony Northrup’s exposé, Afghan Girl (1985) is a perfect example of the western’s fetishism of the unknown. Sold (and profited off of) as an authentic image of a refugee girl who was scared of the soviet war on Afghanistan, the dark story behind Steve McCurry’s most famous photograph is one of boundary violation, disrespect for others’ religions, and lack of consent. Sharbat Gula’s name was unknown for nearly 20 years and her story misrepresented. It is believed that the only reason McCurry chose to take the girl’s photograph was her external beauty. Demanding the uncovering of her face and positioning her as a cover model from the 80s, the objectification of this roughly 12 year old girl had little if any positive results for Sharbat, who to this day is recognised and persecuted for her renowned face. While Steve McCurry’s version of the facts is slightly different to Northrup’s depiction, there is still enough evidence of a lack of collaboration with Gula and what I would consider to be an improper use of her image.
Bibi Aisha (2009), was at least 18 years old when female photographer Jodi Bieber made her portrait. Far from a fetishistic standpoint, Bieber’s commissioned photograph was to accompany a journalistic piece for the Time magazine that was to highlight the plight of Afghan women. Identified by name and truthful story, Bibi not only consented to her photograph being made but collaborated with Time magazine in the telling of her story. Bibi has since had a chance to build a new life, away from the horrors she once suffered.
PHILIPS, Sarah. 2011. ‘Photographer Jodi Bieber’s best shot’. The Guardian 20 November [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/nov/20/photography-jodi-bieber-best-shotLinks to an external site. [accessed 10 October 2022].
HARRIS, Gareth. 2016. ‘Photographer Steve McCurry speaks out against arrest of Sharbat Gula, the ‘Afghan girl with green eyes”. The Art Newspaper 2 November [online]. Available at: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2016/11/02/photographer-steve-mccurry-speaks-out-against-arrest-of-sharbat-gula-the-afghan-girl-with-green-eyesLinks to an external site. [accessed 10 October 2022].
Al Jazeera English. 2016. Steve McCurry discusses Sharbat Gula’s case [TV interview]. Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3foVVAh_6s&ab_channel=AlJazeeraEnglishLinks to an external site.[accessed 10 October 2022].
KARNAD, Ribhu and Raghu. 2019. ‘You’ll Never See the Iconic Photo of the ‘Afghan Girl’ the Same Way Again. The Wire 12 March [online]. Available at: https://thewire.in/media/afghan-girl-steve-mccurry-national-geographicLinks to an external site. [accessed 10 October 2022].
TONDO, Lorenzo and HILAIRE, Eric. 2021. ‘It’s heartbreaking’: Steve McCurry on Afghan Girl, a portrait of past and present’. The Guardian 20 September [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/sep/20/its-heartbreaking-steve-mccurry-on-afghan-girl-a-portrait-of-past-and-presentLinks to an external site. [accessed 10 October 2022].
GREWAL, Avleen. 2021. ‘Photojournalistic Integrity: The Controversies Around National Geographic’s Famous ‘Afghan Girl”. Arts Help [online]. Available at: https://www.artshelp.com/the-controversies-and-hidden-lies-around-national-geographics-famous-afghan-girl/Links to an external site. [accessed 10 October 2022].
Oct 11, 2022