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BY Maryam Akram
Steve McCurry the American photojournalist’s iconic photograph ‘the Afghan girl,’ taken in a refugee camp near Peshawar Pakistan, featured as the cover of National Geographic 1985. Twenty-nine years later and McCurry continues to poignantly capture the world in distinctively candid images. McCurry famously sewed rolls of film into his clothes when crossing the Afghan border disguised as a local. What makes McCurry’s photographs especially interesting is their ability to present an honest image without a sense of intrusion or presenting his surroundings as exotic attractions for the benefit of his audience.
Pashtun Sharbat Gulu ,‘The Afghan Girl’, was initially photographed in 1984 in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp. The picture rose to acclaim for a variety of reasons. What makes the picture so striking is Sharbat’s distinctive green eyes that stare down the lens earnestly. Sharbat also was one of the many suffering refugees in the 1980 Afghan conflict. Soviet strikes in her village orphaned her and forced her to cross into Pakistan with her siblings and grandmother. ‘The Afghan Girl’ also presented a rare depiction of a female Afghani, who following the rise of the Taliban in the early 1990s, had been a source of speculation and often their identities have been highly politicised. Steve McCurry’s retrospective exhibition in Birmingham on 2th June-17th October 2010 featured a film where McCurry returned to Afghanistan seventeen years after the photograph was initially taken in search of the then unnamed Sharbat. A boy who was in Nasir Bagh knew Sharbat and informed McCurry where to find her in the mountains near Tora Bora. Sharbat, then around thirty, was a mother of three. Curiously, she only revealed her face when McCurry photographed her again, not showing it to McCurry himself in person.
Steve McCurry’s current blog ‘stevemccurry.wordpress.com’ makes his work freely available to the public. His photo archive date back to 2009, showing not only the progression of his work, but also encapsulating a range of international history ranging six years. McCurry’s most recent contribution is a series from a range of countries entitled ‘Portraits of Resilience’. Under each image, McCurry has included a quote relevant to the theme of resilience. One such quote is from Nelson Mandela reading, ‘the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall’. One of the photographs depicts the chairperson of the Burmese National League and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Dew Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi is simply sitting at a desk in front of the Burmese National League flag. Another image in Peshawar Pakistan is taken from a distance as a man walks with the aid of crutches in a desolate camp. McCurry juxtaposes a variety of images demonstrating the variety in which resilience occurs and is experienced.
Other series featured on the website include titles such as the ‘family table’, ‘leaving and coming’ and to ‘change the world’. The themes McCurry uses may be viewed as a way of creating international and cultural commonalities in an otherwise irreconcilably diverse world. In this way, Steve McCurry displays his true skill as a photographer.