Afghan Girl … McCurry: The Pursuit of Colour
From a turbulent upbringing to a 40-year career in some of the world’s most hazardous combat zones, a biography of the man who created one of the most recognizable pictures ever shot is provided
Steve McCurry’s name may not come to mind straight away, but his most well-known photograph will: Afghan Girl, which was captured in 1984 in a Pakistani refugee camp and features 12-year-old Sharbat Gula, whose astonishingly brilliant eyes propelled the image to the cover of National Geographic magazine. McCurry’s career spans much more than this one image, yet because to its prominence, it significantly boosts his profile and catapults him into the top echelon of photographers.
What may we infer from this adoring profile then? McCurry is a rather belligerent client who is reluctant to divulge much, but when he wants to, he can be blatantly honest. There is some archeological information about his difficult upbringing, including a hand injury and a stint at a Christian boarding school. His career takes off when he travels on the hippie path to India in the middle of the 1970s and ends up crossing the border into Afghanistan to cover the civil war that followed the communist takeover in that nation in 1978. The Soviet invasion in 1979 proved to be his big break, stoking a massive media desire for images that just a few months before he, as an unknown photographer in a hardly publicized battle, couldn’t sell. (McCurry is rather hazy about the ideologies of the combatants he followed.)
McCurry claims that his involvement with conflict zone photography was not by choice; rather, he claims that he was smitten with travel at a young age and that his primary driving force was to discover the unknown. (We find him in empathetic mode documenting a rural Papua New Guinea village that includes a little child whose mother has abandoned him and whose father has passed away.) Naturally, he discusses how he discovered the Afghan Girl photograph, stumbling onto a girls’ classroom in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Peshawar; he goes to great lengths to dispel accusations that he tricked her. The filmmakers also included some 2017 interview footage in which Gula claimed to be pleased with the video. Additionally, McCurry must cope with another problem involving the computer modification of his images, which he justifies by referring to himself as a “visual storyteller.”
However, McCurry now looks to be at a comparable level to someone like Sebastio Salgado; as a result of his travels, he seems to have advanced beyond simple reporting and is now able to make important claims about the world and the environment. In a pretty touching conclusion, it is revealed that this single-minded, mainly quiet guy, who is in his late 60s, just became a father and is committed to preserve the natural environment for his small daughter.
McCurry: On October 19, digital versions of The Pursuit of Color will be available.
Thanks to Andrew Pulver at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.