Sharbat Gula – Steve McCurry
Sharbat Gula – Steve McCurry

“Her eyes are sea green. They are haunted and haunting, and in them you can read the tragedy of a land drained by war. She became known around National Geographic as the “Afghan girl,” and for 17 years no one knew her name. Names have power, so let us speak of hers. Her name is Sharbat Gula, and she is Pashtun, that most warlike of Afghan tribes. It is said of the Pashtun that they are only at peace when they are at war, and her eyes—then and now—burn with ferocity. She is 28, perhaps 29, or even 30. No one, not even she, knows for sure. Stories shift like sand in a place where no records exist. Here is the bare outline of her day. She rises before sunrise and prays. She fetches water from the stream. She cooks, cleans, does laundry. She cares for her children; they are the center of her life. Robina is 13. Zahida is three. Alia, the baby, is one. A fourth daughter died in infancy. Sharbat has never known a happy day, her brother says, except perhaps the day of her marriage.” – Cathy Newman, News Reporter. When asked Sharbat if she had ever felt safe residing under war and the rule of Taliban she replied stating, “No. But life under the Taliban was better. At least there was peace and order.”

 If you are a photographer, you definitely have to come across this particular photograph captured by Steve McCurry while crossing through a refugee camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He had entered a tent that served as a girl’s school. The first child he saw was this shy girl with incredible fiery eyes, aged about 12 years old. Also known by the name of “Afghan Girl” or “Afghan Mona Lisa” made the cover of National Geographic Magazine The June 1985 edition and went on to become one of the most recognizable photograph in the magazine’s history. It was in India that McCurry learned to watch and wait on life. “If you wait,” he realized, “people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.” From Japan, Afghanistan, Kashmir to almost all the parts of the world, Steve McCurry has made his audience feel his presence through his photographs. Some of other inspiring and iconic works include Asylum captured in Kabul, September 11, 2001The Longest War and  In the Shadow of Mountains. Steve McCurry is an accredited Magnum photographer and a National Geographic photographer and has won heaps full of prestigious awards and also had many exhibitions and has published around a dozen books. He spends much of his time in Asia on various photography projects.

I was immediately struck by this photograph captured back in the 1980s era of war and destruction and of course one of the most brutal assassination of John Lenon and the Fall of Berlin Wall. An era of mass destruction, assassination, political disputes and war. Her eyes have captivated the world. This photograph has not only touched hearts but also inspired many photographers, both professional and hobbyists alike. It gives me goosebumps every time I tend to look at this striking photograph. A few words to describe this can be – marvelous, outstanding composition and mellow sorrows. A photograph like this does indeed speak a thousand words.


Steve McCurry has a stunning website and a blog of his own – both of which are required to visit with each and every image better than the last. He captures “Human Condition” very, very well in the award-winning, inspiring, enlightening ways. He is the benchmark, the award winner in that field. Apart from this he also does travel photography, street photography, yes – portrait photography with a signature style –vibrant colors, striking observation and great composition. His iconic works are up for sale on The Phaidon Store and on His expeditions usually include Asia and South East Asia. Some of the upcoming expeditions he is planning on covering include Chiang Mai 2012, Myanmar 2013 and Kumbh Mela 2013. He is also featured on National Geographic Website. Article published under the name of The Nine Lives of Steve McCurry is also a good read.

This post is now a part of GLOBAL IDENTITY SERIES Project initiated by Dravasp Shroff.