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Steve McCurry: Unveiling the Face of War
Photo: The haunted eyes of a 12-year-old refugee

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In the shade of an open tent flap, photographer Steve McCurry
immortalized the haunted eyes of a 12-year-old refugee in a camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The girl’s piercing green eyes, shocked with hints of blue and fear, gave away her story. Soviet helicopters destroyed her village and family, forcing her to make a two-week trek out of the perilous mountains of Afghanistan.

“This portrait summed up for me the trauma and plight, and the whole situation of suddenly having to flee your home and end up in refugee camp, hundreds of miles away,” McCurry says of the photo that became a National Geographic icon after it was published on the cover in June 1985.

He had come across her two years earlier, while working on a story about the millions of refugees who fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. That was also the only time he saw this nameless face, despite numerous efforts to relocate her after the camp she stayed in was evacuated.

Since then, this raw, untouched image has been used on rugs and tattoos, making it one of the most widely reproduced photos in the world, McCurry says.

“I don’t a think a week has gone by for 15 or however many years that I still don’t get requests from people, trying to get information on her,” he says.


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Photo: Steve McCurry
Steve McCurry’s career reached a turning point in the 1980s when, disguised in native garb, he crossed the Pakistan border into rebel-controlled Afghanistan just before the Soviet invasion. When he emerged, he had rolls of film sewn into his clothes. These images won him the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad, an award dedicated to photographers exhibiting exceptional courage and enterprise.

Since then McCurry has published books and covered areas of international and civil conflict, including Burma, Yemen, Kashmir, and Cambodia. He has won many of photojournalism’s highest awards.

“Most of my photos are grounded in people,” says McCurry. “I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face.”

Read the 1985 Article

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