This is the disturbing story behind the iconic “Afghan Girl” photo

Mar 1, 2019

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

This is the disturbing story behind the iconic “Afghan Girl” photo

Mar 1, 2019

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Although it sparked some controversy, Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” is an iconic image that has influenced and inspired many people. Tony Northup wanted to talk about how this image inspired him, but then he learned the story behind it – and it wasn’t pretty. The truth behind how this legendary photo was taken is sad and disturbing, and Tony shares it in this video.

YouTube video

McCurry photographed the “Afghan Girl” (who was later identified as Sharbat Gula) in 1984, in a refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan. Gula was ten years old at the time, studying in a tent school. McCurry said that he had been drawn to her by her piercing green eyes and he’d wanted to take a photo of her. However, the girl was wearing a burka covering the rest of her face. With the help from his translator, McCurry reportedly asked Gula’s teacher to tell the girl to remove the cover and show her face. And this was in severe breach of the girl’s personal boundaries.

Gula is a Pashtun, and she wasn’t supposed to show her face and make eye contact. She also wasn’t allowed to be in the same room with a man who was outside her family, to have her photo taken, and especially have her photo published. As you can see, the iconic photo depicts Gula with her face uncovered and her stunning eyes looking straight at the camera. And she was photographed by a male photographer, who captured her in a way which was unnatural for her.

Some sources (including NatGeo) claim that Gula was an orphan when she fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion in 1979. But according to the BBC, Gula’s mother died in their village in Afghanistan when she was eight. Gula migrated to Pakistan with her father, four sisters and one brother, and started living in a refugee camp Kacha Garahi near Peshawar. If this were the case, McCurry was probably supposed to ask her father for permission before photographing the girl.

The photo was published on the cover of National Geographic in June 1985, and the magazine stated that the girl’s eyes were “reflecting the fear of war.” However, in some later interviews, Gula said that she was scared while having her photo taken, and she ran away immediately after it. So, her eyes did reflect fear, but it wasn’t necessarily the fear of war.

McCurry’s photo became internationally recognized and he was widely celebrated. However, it wasn’t until 2002 that he went back to Pakistan and managed to track down Gula and find out who she was. This was the first time she found out that her face had been famous all over the globe – 17 years after the photo was taken. As she said in an interview, this got her and her husband “nervous and very sad” at first, but after a while, they were happy about it.

YouTube video

Gula has led a life of hardship, fear, and suffering. She sought refuge in Pakistan and lived there for 35 years. She got married at 13 and had five children. One of them died at an early age, and her husband died in 2012 from hepatitis C. According to the BBC, another of her daughters died from the same cause, leaving a two-month-old daughter. Gula’s eldest daughter and husband were buried in Peshawar, where she lived for 35 years. In 2016, Gula she was imprisoned for illegally obtaining Pakistani ID. She was then deported to Afghanistan where she and her family were warmly welcomed, but she still saw Pakistan as her home, considering all the years she had spent there.

Both the story behind this iconic image and Gula’s life story are pretty disturbing and sad. But there is still some good that came from this photo, as Tony concludes. It led to NatGeo setting up a charity for Afghan girls, which reportedly raised over one million dollars. The photo inspired millions of people, and it contributed to spreading the word about Afghan people and their troubles. Things aren’t always black and white, and it’s apparently the case with this image too.

And what do you think? Would it be better for Sharbat Gula if this photo were never taken?

[Update 5 March 2019: the video has been removed from Tony Northrup’s YouTube channel]

[The disturbing true story of the Afghan Girl photo | Tony & Chelsea Northrup]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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18 responses to “This is the disturbing story behind the iconic “Afghan Girl” photo”

  1. Kryn Sporry Avatar
    Kryn Sporry

    I know who did this “investigation “, so I’m not too concerned that anything untoward has happened.

  2. Pierre Perreault Avatar
    Pierre Perreault

    Northup, the great investigator who debunked the truth about this photo and the lies of ISO all in the same week!!! ???

    1. CameraCrazy Avatar
      CameraCrazy

      100% Dead serious….my buddy just talked to Steve Mccurry, and hes consulting a lawyer about possible lawsuit against Tony Northrup for lies and defamation …..

  3. Joe De Diego Avatar
    Joe De Diego

    sounds like a pretty normal life. not everyone is born with a silver spoon up their ass

  4. CameraCrazy Avatar
    CameraCrazy

    OMG!!!!….100% Dead serious….my buddy just talked to Steve Mccurry, and Steve is consulting a lawyer about possible lawsuit against Tony Northrup for
    lies and defamation …..

    1. cybertec69 Avatar
      cybertec69

      This story is OLD NEWS.

  5. Arthur Costa Avatar
    Arthur Costa

    If she was wearing a burka and not a scarf, how did Steve see her eyes in the first place there is always questions

  6. CameraCrazy Avatar
    CameraCrazy

    Tony Northrup is about to get SUED by the photog Steve McCurray who did the afghan girl photo, for slander, defamation etc…
    want proof? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1eba923b4eaaf03a6f5663855719a509e29fcad98c32167aeba3782bf49bfb8d.jpg

  7. MegaNickels Avatar
    MegaNickels

    I don’t think Tony understands the irony of him doing this story and then shilling out square space.

  8. Ben Freedman Avatar
    Ben Freedman

    Tony has never spent time in any war torn countries braving terror to get out images that tell a story. NG sent him out again to find her years later. Tony’s desperate attempt at either fame or money is a joke compared to what Steve McCurry has done. The story was about beauty is spite of war, not selling squarespace every five minutes in each of his videos. Tony might consider sticking with camera reviews instead of journalism. I think his lawyer might agree here as well. Nat Geo has a great team of editors (and attorneys) that review and check facts. The real story might be whether we choose to believe the Afghani government and media or the facts Steve and Nat Geo gave us in two amazing stories.
    Free speech is one thing, slander is another. If Tony was so accurate and honest, why has his video been removed? Steve clearly stated he tried to put her at ease by photographing some of the other girls first. Also, unlike Tony’s story, Steve said he did not know it was going to make the cover.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIgx-nkFL6c&feature=youtu.be

  9. Terence Hogben Avatar
    Terence Hogben

    Tony Northrup and Chelsea did a video recently complaining about all of the hate photographers are showering on other photographers, and now he does this bloody rude, who does he think he is?

  10. Yadda Avatar
    Yadda

    So how did any of htis help this girl/woman. Did she benefit any at all from the fund set up for Afghan girls?

    1. heba Avatar
      heba

      she didnt get a cent from her own picture, plus while she was living in Pakistan someone recognized her from the picture and she was forced to go back to Afghanistan

      1. Yadda Avatar
        Yadda

        Oh My Goodness. What exploitation. Can you find a way to ask Canada to take her? They are usually very sympathetic to this type of exploitation

  11. lroy77 Avatar
    lroy77

    See You Tube for my comments.

    She’s got a nice bright colored outfit. If it was me, I’d have this outfit in every color I could get it. (Not unusual for her to be covered up…many Catholic females are just as covered up).

    Stupid Afghan males…don’t they know that you are never EVER allowed to ask a woman her age? Not there, not here in America, not on the North Pole, not on Jupiter!

  12. n5ifi Avatar
    n5ifi

    I just read the 3 different articles on this subject and all 3 had Gula’s age at the time of the photograph different. Something smells here alright.

  13. Chase Avatar
    Chase

    Nothing in this post insinuates something disturbing happened. GTFO