Foreign Policy Blogs

30 Years in Photos: How Afghanistan has Changed

Photographer Steve McCurry, perhaps best known for his National Geographic cover photo of an Afghan woman with haunting eyes, talked with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty recently about how Afghanistan has changed in the past 30 years.

A woman in Paris looks at a  poster of the famous photograph of Sharbat Gula.

A woman in Paris looks at a poster of the famous photograph of Sharbat Gula.

July 06, 2010
Steve McCurry is a well-known photojournalist whose photograph of a young Afghan girl during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 became an iconic image of the plight of refugees.

McCurry spoke to Muhammad Tahir of RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service about his experiences in Afghanistan and how it has changed since he first visited the country over 30 years ago (see below for audio of full interview).

RFE/RL: You’ve taken hundreds of photographs in Afghanistan, and you said you actually started in Afghanistan, so why did one photo of this little Afghan girl, Sharbat Gula, touch so many people?

Steve McCurry: Well, that’s a very good question, and maybe I’m not the best person to ask that. I know that we had thousands of letters and requests and inquiries about, you know, who was she and how could they help her. People wanted to send her clothes and help, and people wanted to adopt her.

I think there is a quality to her expression which has many different emotions, and she seems — it’s a bit ambiguous, too, what is actually…. But I think that her amazing eyes are probably the main thing which attracts people, and she has these very riveting, beautiful, almost haunted eyes looking at the viewer. So I think that’s possibly the thing which attracts people to that picture.

RFE/RL: After many years, you went back to find this girl. What took you back to find her again?

McCurry: The reason we went back to try and find this girl was because we had received so many letters and inquiries about her. The cover [for “National Geographic” magazine] had been so important and so popular, I was also curious myself if there was some way to find her and try and help her and do something good for her.

So, we went back in 2002 to try and locate her and it was almost like a miracle that we were able to find her.

Read the rest of the interview here:


Genevieve Belmaker

Genevieve Belmaker is a freelance journalist and contributing editor with The Epoch Times ( She also contributes to Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists and Her blog on journalism is

Genevieve has traveled throughout the U.S., Asia, Central America, Israel and the West Bank for reporting assignments, including major investigative reports on the recovery of New Orleans, the encroaching presence of China in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the dangerous import of melamine-contaminated milk into the U.S. and settlement outposts in the West Bank. She regularly reports on issues related to journalism, and the work of journalists.

She holds a BA from the University of Southern California in International Relations, and has been a member of several prominent national and international professional media organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the International Women’s Media Foundation, the New York Press Club, and the Newswomen’s Club of New York. She lives in Jerusalem, Israel with her husband and son.

Areas of Focus:
New Media; Journalism; Culture and Society