It is without a doubt the photo that most people will recognize. The eyes are riveting and this is what draws you to this young girl. Few people know the name of the photographer. His name is Steve McCurry and he immortalized Sharbat Gula, the Afghani refugee girl with the striking eyes, on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. This may be the image that people remember most, but McCurry has a wealth of photographs to his credit.
The Early Years
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1950 McCurry went on to study film history, cinematography and filmmaking at Penn State. While at Penn State he worked on the college paper taking photographs and soon found that this was his true calling.
His Career Begins
McCurry was determined to become a photojournalist and he was willing to do whatever he could to achieve his goal. Upon graduation he worked for two years at a newspaper and then decided to leave for India to freelance. It was here where he learned his innate skill, waiting for the perfect shot. As he stated, “If you wait,” he realized, “people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.”
Getting the Shot
Few photographers would go to the lengths that McCurry went to in order to obtain those coveted images. His first foray into photojournalism was his coverage of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. McCurry disguised himself in native garb and he crossed the Pakistan border into rebel controlled Afghanistan just before the Russian invasion. He hid his film by sewing it into his clothes and was able to smuggle these shots out providing some of the first shots ever seen of the conflict. His coverage earned him the coveted Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad.
If there was an international incident of any kind, McCurry was certain to be there camera in hand. He has covered the conflicts in Beirut, Cambodia, the Iran-Iraq war, the Philippines, the Gulf War, and Afghanistan. His images have appeared in magazines around the world including National Geographic. McCurry has been a member of Magnum Photos since 1986.
What makes McCurry such a great photographer isn’t just his willingness to put it all on the line for his craft, but the fact that he captures the true essence of his subjects through his shooting style.
Holding on to Kodachrome
A lover of film, he has been forced to move to the digital medium, using his Nikon D3s and Hasselblad HDII-39 to capture his award winning photographs. Prior to going digital his preferred medium was slides. To commemorate his love of slide film, Kodak gave him the honor to shoot the very last ever produced roll of Kodachrome transparency film. The images from this film are housed at the George Eastman House. Over his career he has managed to accumulate over 800,000 slides.
Returning to Afghanistan
One of the high points in McCurry’s career was going back to locate the subject of his famous 1985 National Geographic cover shot. Along with a team from National Geographic McCurry was able to locate the woman in the famous photograph. The identity of the "Afghan Girl" had remained unknown for over 15 years until the team located the woman, Sharbat Gula, in 2002. McCurry reported at the time, “Her skin is weathered; there are wrinkles now, but she is a striking as she was all those years ago.”
Honors and Awards
McCurry has won many honors and awards over the year including the Robert Capa Gold Medal, Magazine Photographer of the Year and four first prizes in the World Press Photo Contest. He has also won the Olivier Rebbot Memorial Award on two separate occasions.
Besides appearing in various magazines, McCurry has published numerous books bringing these international conflicts into everyone’s consciousness.
Steve McCurry Official Website
Steve McCurry: Capturing the Face of Asia
Magnum Photo: Steve McCurry