Focus on the exhibition at Palazzo Sarcinelli: The Afghan Girl

Symbol of the tragedy of Afghanistan and the dignity with which its people have faced war and exile

Events - published on 28 September 2021
Source: artika press office
Steve McCurry needs no introduction. Conegliano exhibition will bring together a hundred or so of his Icons, works that have made photography a custom, as well as a testimony of the
. They are the result of a precise vision of the artist, who states – Most of my photos are rooted in people. I look for the moment when the most genuine soul appears, when experience
imprints itself on a person’s face. I try to convey what a person can be in a broader context that we might call the human condition.
Steve McCurry’s most famous photograph is the immortal image of the Afghan girl. The snapshot was taken in Pakistan, near Peshawar, inside a refugee camp. Published in June 1985, the Afghan
girl has been the face of many solidarity campaigns, for example by Amnesty International.
The photograph that Steve McCurry took of the young girl, many years before he knew her name, has become a symbol of the tragedy of Afghanistan and the dignity with which its people have faced
war and exile
. An image captured in one of the most inhospitable places on earth, a refugee space. By depicting this place of pain, McCurry wanted to make readers aware of the atrocities
committed there and the precarious conditions in which a part of humanity finds itself.
The photograph has an almost accidental genesis: one day, while walking through the Nasir Bagh camp, McCurry heard young voices coming from a school tent and approached the teacher asking
permission to capture the lesson with his camera. When permission was granted, the photographer was immediately struck by the magnetic eyes of a pupil who was standing a little way off. – I
immediately noticed the young girl. She had an intense, tormented expression and an incredibly penetrating gaze – and yet she was only twelve years old. As she was very shy, I thought that if I had
photographed her classmates first, she would have agreed more easily to be photographed, so as not to feel less important than the others. – The image, although conceived and realised in a few
seconds, is perfect and immediately reveals McCurry‘s ability to establish an intense, if ephemeral, relationship with his subjects.
After the photo was published on the cover of National Geographic, McCurry tells us how the newsroom went crazy. – They were flooded with letters. Everyone wanted to know who she was, to
help her, send her money, adopt her, one even wanted to marry her.
The girl, named Sharbat Gula, remained unknown for more than 15 years after the photo was published in the magazine, until the photographer managed to find her.
He went on an expedition with a National Geographic team and arrived in Pakistan in 2002. As the Peshawar refugee camp was about to be demolished, McCurry had one last chance to see the girl
again. He began the search by showing her photo to elders in the camp and, once word spread, several women arrived claiming to be the girl in the portrait. After a few days without success, the
expedition was about to make its way back, until the arrival of a man upset the plans. He assured them that Sharbat was alive, married but had been back in Afghanistan for several years.
So, after a long and dangerous journey, McCurry returned to the country still at war and saw the girl again with the same emotional charge with which he had left her. – Her skin is
scarred, there are wrinkles now, but she is exactly as extraordinary as she was all those years ago,” he said in an interview with The Guardian. “I explained to her that her image had moved a lot
of people, but I’m not sure that the photograph or the power of her image really meant anything to her or that she could fully understand it.
Although Sharbat’s appearance had completely changed, not least because of the hardships of life in the war, her eyes still conveyed the inner strength of her subject.
Steve McCurry was very grateful to the woman who had brought him international fame. He helped her in many ways, including providing her and her husband with the means to make the pilgrimage
to Mecca. – It was the most important dream of their lives and without that photo it would never have come true. It was nice to be able to give back at least part of what I owed her.
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