You know what really gets to me, and I’m sure many know this, is the blatant abuse and betrayal that white photogs display in POC countries. Every time a photo has gotten famous like this photo did in history, the actual focus of the photo is left behind in the dust while the white photog is hailed as a hero for displaying the ills of that country. He didn’t even fucking ask her name. He didn’t ask for 17 years. The world knew nothing about her life and her story. He captured one moment that made him famous and she got nothing.
Every time I see this photo, I seethe.
whats her name though
HER NAME IS SHARBAT GULA
When I speak about forms of colonialist violence and how it shapes the way we communicate, I hope that seeing this photograph with the above commentary included helps people understand what I mean.
This is how a person becomes reduced to an idea, an image, an accomplishment for someone else. She becomes “Afghan Girl”: a two-dimensional example meant to represent something over which she has no control. Was she ever paid for this photograph, or the second one above?
Why does Steve McCurry speak for her? Why does he control the conversation, why does he control what we can know about her? Where is her voice?
Who is Sharbat Gula?
Sharbat Gula does not speak to the media, with the exception of Steve McCurry and his crew, because SHE does not want to. They honoured this request and thus haven’t done any formal interviews or photographs of her since they found her several years ago.
The original photograph was taken in passing, and was taking in a war zone during the evacuation of refugees. It was not possible to search for the girl in the photo for a long time, given the policies of the Taliban, which were imposed shortly after the photo was taken. It’s a bit difficult to launch a search for a single woman in a country that has become uniquely unfriendly to your own people and way of life, and where the women A.) aren’t allowed to speak to men outside their families without male escorts, B.) cannot leave the house without male escorts, and C.) wear head-to-toe coverings that even cover their eyes.
Can you imagine what the Taliban might have done to a woman whose face and hair was plastered all over Western media, and who’d become a symbol of what women in Afghanistan were facing at the time? It’s not an exaggeration to say that she might have had her nose or ears cut off, or acid thrown in her face, or even been stoned to death. They did that to plenty of other women for far less.
When the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan was broken, the photographer and his crew DID go in to try and find the Afghan Girl. That’s how we know her name and why we have photographs of what she looks like now. It wasn’t easy to find her, because they literally went around to villages in the region, showing her picture to people and asking them if they knew this woman.
Finally, someone knew who she was, but because the photographer and crew were all male, they had to first negotiate with Sharbat Gula’s male family members in order to see and speak with her. I believe they also sent in a female crew member to talk to the women.
She is the one who initially refused most assistance from the photographer’s crew, and this is covered in the National Geographic article detailing the search for her. Instead of paying her with money, they instead persuaded her (and the family) to allow them to help in other ways, like the above-mentioned sewing machine and medical care.
Sharbat Gula did not want newfound fame and fortune from that 25-year-old photograph. She just wanted to go back to living her quiet life in rural Afghanistan, and so she did.
Do some research on a situation before you bring in all the righteous indignation on behalf of someone who probably doesn’t WANT said righteous indignation.
Hear, hear. Is it really so strange that large parts of the eastern world are actually fairly disgusted by Western obsession with fame and fortune?