Afghan Girl: The Iconic Image That Almost Wasn’t Published

The photograph featured on the cover of National Geographic in June of 1985 is, undoubtedly, iconic. The photo shows an Afghan girl, later identified as Sharbat Gula, living as a refugee in Pakistan following the Soviet Union’s bombing of her village. Photographer Steve McCurry’s new book, Untold: The Story Behind the Photographs, reveals that this image almost didn’t appear in the magazine:

“The picture editor at the time was in favor of this picture with her hands on her face. It turned out that the editor of the magazine at the time chose that picture and, in a way, the rest is history.” –Steve McCurry

afghan girl national geographic

McCurry took Gula’s photograph on Kodachrome color slide film using a Nikon FM2 camera with a Nikkor 105mm F2.5 lens. At the time, McCurry didn’t know the identity of the then 12-year-old girl. In fact, she wasn’t recognized until 2002 when John Daugman confirmed her identity using iris recognition software. Gula had never seen her famous portrait until it was shown to her by McCurry when they were reunited.

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