Did you know that Sharbat Gula (the Afghan girl photo by National Geographic) had never seen her famous portrait before it was shown to her in January 2002.
The beautiful and previously anonymous Afghan girl featured in one of the last century’s most enduring portrait photographs — and what became National Geographic magazine’s most famous cover image — has been found living in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan.
She’s weathered and aged from a life of poverty but still has the same haunting green eyes.
The award-winning photographer who took her picture during a five-minute session in a Pakistan refugee camp in 1984, Steve McCurry, led a team from National Geographic that tracked her down in January. The magazine announced the discovery Tuesday and identified her as Sharbat Gula, perhaps 29 or 30 years old today — she isn’t sure of her age — the mother of three girls and the wife of a baker.
“The instant I saw her I knew that this was the Afghan girl,” McCurry says. “Her eyes still have that penetrating sort of look, that kind of intensity.”
Her life over the years has been marred by the death of a child, the loss of her parents during the Afghan war with the Soviet Union and poverty. “I wouldn’t characterize her as having lived a happy life,” McCurry says.
It was news to Sharbat Gula that the photograph taken years before had been so widely distributed and elicited such an overwhelming response, McCurry says.
“I don’t think a day has gone by in the last 17 years that I haven’t gotten some kind of a letter or e-mail or a phone call request, people wanting to send her money and people wanting to adopt her, letters from men wanting to find her and marry her,” he says.
“It’s certainly the most memorable image that we have ever published,” says William Allen, editor in chief of National Geographic, which has a circulation of nearly 10 million. “I have been asked hundreds of times, whatever happened to that girl, the one with the green eyes?”