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Influential Photographs: Afghan Girl, 1984 by Steve McCurry

Her emerald eyes are as haunting as a vampire’s. You might have seen her photograph just once, or even hundreds of times, but her stare stays the same – it pierces down your spine and her beauty lingers on your mind. Who is this girl?

image source: pbase.com

During the time of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, many orphans were helplessly forced to migrate to a refugee camp in Pakistan. One of the photojournalists who was assigned to cover the event was the resilient Steve McCurry, who hid his rolls of film by stitching them into his “native” disguise. Given rare opportunities to photograph Afghan women, he seized the moment and captured the portrait of a stunning young woman with eyes of everlasting green.

This incredible photograph was shot using a Nikon FM2 and a Kodachrome color slide film. It was the cover photo for the June 1985 issue of National Geographic magazine and it became the most recognized photograph in the magazine’s history. Ironically, the girl remained unnamed and it was only after almost 2 decades when the NatGeo team went on a quest to search for Afghan girl’s real identity and found out that the young lady in the picture is named Sharbat Gula. Her identification via modern biometrics eventually lead to her reunion with McCurry who photographed her in 1984 . Her name was revealed and he took another portrait of her. That was the first time she saw her portrait; she was in her 30’s.

image source: nationalgeographic.com

It’s amazing how a photographer is able to capture a complete stranger’s portrait and, at the same time, make it seem as if the photograph is as familiar as the back of our hands – just like Steve McCurry’s portrait of the Afghan Girl.

Read more about this influential photograph. View more of McCurry’s work.

Which other photographs do you think are influential? Post a hyperlink to the image in the comments – if you know it, please include the photographer’s name and the year the photo was taken.

Our intention with the Influential Photographs columns is not to glorify or demean the subject of the photo. Our intention with this column is to highlight the most influential analogue photographs of history. The photographs we feature are considered icons, for their composition, subject matter, or avant-garde artistic value.

written by basterda


  1. herbert-4


    Some company needs to license Kodachrome's formula and keep making it. There was an article thet stated that a well focused and exposed Kodachrome slide is at least 80 megapixels of information. (Something like a 1.28 gigabyte .tif... could your computer open that in Photoshop??)

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  2. sammy_a


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  3. nylonviolence


    W.Eugene Smith - September 20, 1948. LIFE Magazine


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  4. nylonviolence


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  5. willyboy


    Robert Capa, 1936: The Falling Soldier:

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  6. emilios


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  7. emilios


    Greg Marinovich ( Another amazing photographer from the "Bang Bang Club") 15 Sep 1990. http://cas1.elis.uge(…)/soweto.htm and http://digitalfilmma(…)bang14.html

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  8. icallitart


    James Nachtwey http://www.amadelio.com/vlog/wp-content/uploads/A_2007/nachtwey_war_vlog03.jpg (Chechnya, 1996 - Ruins of central Grozny)
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  9. homer


    For any Dublin based lomographers interested in Steve McCurry's work there's an exhibition currently on in the Gallery of Photography http://www.galleryof(…)cCurry.html runs until April 24th

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  10. basterda


    Thanks for the suggestions, all! :)

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: 中文(繁體版), Spanish, Deutsch, Italiano & Português.