In the history of modern portraiture, few images have stuck in the collective consciousness of the photography world as firmly as the "Afghan Girl" portrait by Steve McCurry. The photo, taken in 1984 in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp, has become a lasting portrayal of innocence in a heartbreaking circumstance, as relevant today as it was over 30 years ago.
This week, news came according to CNN, that Sharbat Gula, the girl in the portrait, then 12, was arrested in Pakistan for falsifying documents and illegally staying in neighboring Pakistan. With a conviction she faces years in jail or deportation. McCurry himself has spoken out against the arrest in no uncertain terms, calling it "...an egregious violation of her human rights."
He's even posted about it on his Facebook Page below:
Now in her early 40s, Gula has lived a life of a refugee, however she has no formal refugee status in Pakistan. Therefore, she is unable to receive aid until she procures said status. Unfortunately, bureaucracy has become the main obstacle to her freedom. The situation is a stark reminder that seeking liberty and a better life for yourself and your family is no longer reason enough to be granted asylum in most of the world. Her situation mirrors the struggles felt by refugees the world over. By falsifying her documents, over a decade of jail time may be the next obstacle in a life already fraught with hurdles.
All too often, famous imagery lives in the abstract, becoming a foot note in the psyche of photographers and the general population. The meaning of the image is lost in the ether, while we marvel at the superficial. However, occasionally events bring an image back into relevance in ways that couldn't have been foreseen. The "Afghan Girl" lives again as a real person, with needs, struggles, and life or death conflict in her world. These events are a reminder that although esthetics are the guiding force in many photographic disciplines, photojournalism is rooted in the real. The world keeps turning and these hearts keep beating long after the ink has dried on the page.
Lead image used with permission from Celina Lafuente de Lavotha of Monaco Reporter