It’s one of the most haunting photographs ever taken, and the news that it has been sold at auction is depressing. The picture belongs to all of us.
It’s the image of a green-eyed, 12-year-old Afghan refugee girl staring intently into the camera lens. An orange-red scarf with holes in it covers her head. The photo was taken in 1984 in Pakistan by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. It was on the cover of the magazine’s June 1985 issue, and if you saw it, you still remember it.
McCurry published a collection of his stunning portraits of faces from around the globe through Phaidon publishers, which put mesmerizing images of the Afghan girl on its front and back covers. McCurry wrote in a foreword: “From an outpouring of pictures over 20 years, these are the faces I cannot forget. Some stare out of places I don’t want to remember. All of them represent chance connections in a world of resilience.”
National Geographic sold 232 images from its huge 11 million-plus collection at a New York auction that raised $3.8 million to preserve the magazine’s unparalleled archives.
The picture sold Thursday to an unidentified buyer for $147,000. One can only think sadly that a few dollars of that staggering sum might have made the girl’s life more bearable. She was found long after the photo was taken – haggard, old beyond her years, with lost and badly damaged teeth.
National Geographic retains rights to publish the photo, copies of which are to be found for a few dollars on the Internet. Look for “Afghan girl.”
But as our soldiers still fight in Afghanistan, trying to tamp down the Taliban and bring a chaotic country into modern times, we somehow feel a loss as we think about the history of that amazing photograph.