Afghan Girl Photo, Shot by Alum, at Palmer

national_geographic_featuring_afghan_girlThe blog at Penn State’s alumni magazine had a post about Steve McCurry, the alumnus photographer who shot the famous Afghan Girl picture… it got us interested in the whole story, so here it is.


First, some technical stuff… see, the photograph was shot using Kodak Kodachrome film. Kodak announced the discontinuation of that film type on Monday. To honor the famous film, Kodak asked some famous photographers who had used it to shot the last remaining rolls.

Since Steve McCurry’s picture of the Afghan Girl is one of the most iconic images of our time, he was one of the selected photographers.

The Afghan Girl

We were intrigued by the picture, so we did what we are apt to do in this era of iPhones – we looked her up on Google.

The Afghan Girl grew up as a Pashtuni living in Afghanistan. During the Afghan-Soviet War (1979-89), the Soviets attacked her village. The girl’s parents were killed in the strike. The girl and her remaining family were sent to a refugee camp in Pakistan.

While Steve McCurry was visiting the refugee camp in 1984, he got a very rare chance to photograph a woman, a 13-year old student at the informal school there.

The picture was on the cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic. It has since become National Geographic’s most iconic cover, the girls eyes the sight of the Pashtuns.

But for 28 years, the girl– long a woman– remained an unknown to Steve McCurry and everyone else. It took McCurry several failed attempts before he found someone who knew her brother.

He eventually found her. Her name is Sharbat Gula, and though she had no idea how famous the picture was, she embraced its iconic meaning.

When they met again, McCurry told Sharbat her image had become famous as a symbol of the Afghan people. “I don’t think she was particularly interested in her personal fame,” McCurry said. “But she was pleased when we said she had come to be a symbol of the dignity and resilience of her people.” (National Geographic)

For that reason, she allowed a female producer from National Geographic to take a second portrait of her, so the world could see that she had survived.

‘Faces of Asia’


The Penn Stater Magazine actually did a full feature on this story back in the spring of 2002– the opening spread is included on the right.

But they turned us on to something even more exciting. A print of the photo is currently being featured in an exhibition of McCurry’s work that will run until August 16– unfortunately it will be down by fall semester.

Tina Hay, editor of the magazine, posted some more info about the ‘Faces of Asia’ exhibit on her blog.

I just learned from Dana Carlisle Kletchka, the Palmer Museum’s curator of education, that that famous photo has a name—”Haunted Eyes Tell of an Afghan Refugee’s Fears”—and that it will indeed be among the photos at the Palmer exhibition. Just seeing that photo blown up to 19″x31″ will be worth the trip up to the museum, as far as I’m concerned.

Additionally, the documentary made by National Geographic in 2003, ‘The Search for the Afghan Girl,’ will be shown every Sunday between now and August 16 at 1:00 pm.

Check out her Wikipedia page— it’s full of good links and an authoritative version of the story.

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About the Author


Creator of @OnwardState. Big fan of sweaters.

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