Fascinating, and very sad, story behind an iconic National Geographic photo.

Fascinating, and very sad, story behind an iconic National Geographic photo.

McCurry wanted to take more pictures but Sharbat Gula fled. No part of the written story mentioned her narrative or even her name (which McCurry did not care to find out). He did not take her consent or her father’s to publish the image.

‘Afghan Girl’ at a Steve McCurry exhibition in the Old Town Hall, Prague. Credit: elPadawan/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

When Sharbat Gula finally saw the cover that would make her face world-famous, she felt, she later said, “nervous and very sad”.

When the photograph was first published in 1985 and the magazine circulated to millions of readers worldwide, it had only one sentence about her (besides the original caption, ‘Haunted eyes tell of an Afghan refugee’s fears’). It said her eyes were “reflecting the fear of war”.

This is false, Northrup says. The fear in her eyes is that of a student interrupted at school by a male stranger invading her space, her personal boundaries and her culture and leaving without even having learned her name.

McCurry and National Geographic would sell the picture for enormous amounts. Steve McCurry Studios prices their open edition 20″ x 24″ print of Sharbat Gula for $18,000 (Rs 12.8 lakh). Larger prints have been sold for as much as $178,900 at auctions.

Until their return for the follow-up story in 2002, Sharbat Gula received nothing.

Sharbat Gula was arrested in 2016 in Pakistan on charges of fraudulent identity. She served 15 days in prison and was then deported to Afghanistan, away from a “very good life in Pakistan”. She blames the photo for her arrest, saying: “The photo created more problems than benefits. It made me famous but also led to my imprisonment.”  —The Wire