30 Years Later, ‘Afghan Girl’ National Geographic Cover Still Resonates

Retrospective of Steve McCurry's work wraps up this weekend in Italy.

The man responsible for the famous National Geographic June 1985 cover image of a 12-year-old Afghan girl looking out from a Pakistani refugee camp with piercing green eyes continues to enjoy a fringe benefit. Photographer Steve McCurry recently told CNN that the taxi ride is always free whenever an Afghan driver learns he was the man who took the shot.

A major retrospective of McCurry’s work is wrapping up this weekend in Monza, Italy. The cover photo, taken in late 1984, speaks to the power of a single image in the pre-Instagram, pre-Web, pre-digital era:

When McCurry reflects upon the photo’s popularity, what excites him most is the impact that this single image has had on the real world.

“People volunteered to work in the refugee camps because of that photograph,” he says. “Afghans are incredibly proud of it, as the girl is poor but shows great pride, fortitude and self-respect. It drew attention to their plight, and inspired a lot of people.”

It also led the National Geographic to set up the Afghan Children’s Fund.

In 2002, McCurry traveled to Afghanistan with National Geographic Explorer to track down Sharbat Gula. Earlier this year, she was involved in some fraudulent business involving national identity cards.

McCurry, now 64 and based out of New York, had an earlier career break involving Afghanistan. In the late 1970s, he scored some major photos after slipping across the Afghanistan border ahead of the Soviet invasion, disguised as an Afghan resident.

Check out some of the other stunning McCurry shots on display in Italy here. And if you’re interested in buying a poster of the famous 1985 national Geographic shot, it’s available for sale via McCurry’s personal website.

P.S. Towards the end of the recent CNN piece, McCurry chimes in with this noteworthy remark: “I’m not one of those photographers that hankers after the good old days. Digital photography is better than film ever was.”

Cover image via: nationalgeographic.com