The documentary photography of Steve McCurry has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. In this thought-provoking video, photographer Tony Northrup explores the truth around how the image was created and the story of its subject that rarely gets told.
[3.11.19: Northrup's video and the views expressed in this article have been updated. Click here.]
McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” is perhaps one of National Geographic’s most iconic magazine covers but, as Northrup reveals, it is not without controversy. The fear that is said to be seen in the model’s eyes is not fear of war but of something else, and this slight twisting of the truth makes for a more compelling story when it comes to depicting the hardships faced by refugees and the consequences of a war on the other side of the world.
Last month I wrote a long piece about photography’s capacity to tell truth through fiction, and McCurry’s work is another example of how what is in front of the lens can be used to convey a different message. Questions are then raised: is McCurry's work nothing more than the fetishization of suffering in order to sell magazines? Is the subtle mistruth justified given the attention that it brought to the plight of refugees from Afghanistan and more broadly around the world? Personally, I believe that there is a means of conveying both stories without one necessarily compromising the other. Either way, it's healthy for the community that those held with such high esteem are examined more deeply, such as the problems now being explored in the work of Robert Capa.
Northrup bravely explores some important issues in this video. Be sure to leave your comments below.