1985: THE AFGHAN GIRL (THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)
Sales: Unknown – Sources: Reliable – Status: Big image / number of copies sold needed
«The girl put face to the refugees» (Steve McCurry)
Plastic beauty is very important in the front cover, although the media usually prefers photos that provoke scandals. However, beauty also sells and gives prestige to a mass media. Perhaps the next cover contains the world’s most famous photograph, on a par with Neil Armstrong’s stepping on the moon or the tragic atomic bomb.
The most famous photo of the National Geographic Magazine the magazine was taken in June 1984 by Steve McCurry. McCurry was visiting the sprawling refugee camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and he chose a student around 12 years in a refugee camp of Nasir Bagh (in Peshawar, Pakistan). «I went into a refugee camp, and I was kind of wandering through… and I saw this one particular girl who had this really kind of haunted look in her eye. So I got permission to photograph her», McCurry said. The girl lost her parents when she was very young and she moved from Afghanistan because of the Soviet invasion of December 1979 (the same that provoked the boycott of 50 countries led by the United States in the Moscow Olympic Games). All that mixture of sadness and fear was reflected in the afghan girl face, immortalized by one snapshot. As Steve McCurry told: «Her look kind of summed up the horror, because her village had been bombed and her relatives had been killed, and she’d had to make this two-week trek through the mountains to the refugee camp».
Surprisingly, National Geographic’s picture editor didn’t want to put the picture on the cover, as it was too disturbing. Finally he relented the image appeared on the front page of National Geographic in June 1985. The intense green eyes of the girl captivated the world and the cover crossed the Earth, becoming certainly an icon for the magazine. No one knew then that girl as McCurry did not report his name, and thereafter was known as the ‘Afghan girl’.
Steve McCurry said recently: «Once it was published on the cover of National Geographic we literally got thousands of letters. People willing to send her money, people wanted to adopt her, there were even men who wanted to find her and marry her. It just never let up over the 17 years». The image became a symbol of the Afghan conflict and the situation of refugees worldwide, and was named ‘the most recognized photograph’ in the history of the National Geographic.
THE SEARCHING FOR THE AFGHAN GIRL
Here you can read the National Geographic’s article for the searching.
17 years later Steve McCurry decided to look for her, realizing that finding was going to be difficult «because refugees move from side to side. The only way [to find her] involved to return to the same place». The photographer came back to the same refugee camp in Pakistan with the mission to locate her, a certainly thorny situation due to the dispersion of housing and its maze-like situation. False rumors began to circulate telling that she was dead, she had gone to Canada, ¡¡¡or even she taught English to Bin Laden!!!
McCurry believed that the afghan girl was Alam Bibi, in despite of the fact that her eyes were brown; an iris analysis showed that Bibi was not the famous covered girl. The photographer had to abandon the search, but in light of a new clue the National Geographic sent correspondent Boyd Matson to Peshawar. After several investigations he achieved to identify the name of the afghan girl: Sharbat Gula. She was a mother of four daughters (although one of them died after birth) and belonged to the Pashtun ethnic group. Matson took some pictures to see if she was the girl they were looking for. The National Geographic ordered a face recognition test and an iris comparison, and it was established that the images showed the same person.
When Steve McCurry knew the results he returned to Pakistan to meet her: «There was no question in my mind that this was the girl. The eyes were the same, she had the same distinctive scar on her nose. All the facial features matched up. I instantly knew that this was the girl».
That magnetic look of deep greenish eyes had turned off his light. The girl did not know the relevance that she had acquired with the picture taken by McCurry, and agreed to be new footage for another story. Sharbat Gula even had never seen her famous portrait before it was shown to her in January 2003!
The front page of April 2002 was dedicated to that new, and was the first time in 114 years that a person appeared 2 times in the National Geographic front cover. Subsequently the images recorded during the searching were edited for the documentary ‘The Search for the Afghan girl”.
McCurry commented: «I was very happy that several people called me, that they actually volunteered to go working Pakistan, to refugee camps, based on that picture» (Search for the Afghan Girl, 0:04:23). The National Geographic Society created a fund to help for the development and education for Afghan girls and women in collaboration with local authorities and nonprofit organizations. The photo has also been widely used on Amnesty International brochures, posters, and calendars. This is the legacy of the ‘Mona Lisa of the twentieth century’.