WASHINGTON (March 12, 2002)–National Geographic announced today it has located the subject of the most recognized photograph in its 114-year history. The mysterious “Afghan girl,” whose haunting, green-eyed gaze has long intrigued the world, has been found, nearly two decades after her picture appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985.
In January 2002, Steve McCurry, the photographer who made the famous portrait for National Geographic in 1984, and a National Geographic team returned to the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan, where she was originally photographed, to search for her. Through a series of contacts, she was identified as Sharbat Gula, now married and living in a remote region of Afghanistan with her family.
Gula’s life will be the subject of the cover story in the April issue of National Geographic magazine, and the process of finding her and verifying her identity will be detailed in a television documentary premiering in the United States as a one-hour special report from National Geographic EXPLORER, Friday, March 15, at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC. The special will also appear on the National Geographic Channel internationally, beginning March 18. More information is available at www.nationalgeographic.com.
National Geographic searched the world for a scientific methodology to confirm her identity. Several techniques were used, including state-of-the-art iris recognition and the FBI facial recognition technique.
“The science corroborates my own gut reaction when I saw her face again,” said Steve McCurry, who has taken a current set of pictures of her that are featured in April’s National Geographic magazine. “I am 100 percent certain that Sharbat Gula is the ‘Afghan girl’ I’ve been seeking for the past 17 years. Her eyes are as haunting now as they were then.”
“Sharbat’s story is a metaphor for all refugees,” said William L. Allen, editor in chief of National Geographic magazine. “It is fitting that she grace our cover once again and cause us all to focus on the plight of the people she has come to represent.”
David Royle, executive producer of National Geographic EXPLORER and senior vice president for programming and production for National Geographic Television & Film, said, “Her story has been a great mystery to us here at the National Geographic as well as to the rest of the world. Finding her after all these years required an enormous amount of detective work and a bit of luck, and the confirming scientific process was extraordinary and illuminating. She is the ultimate human interest story about the people of Afghanistan.”
Gula has been photographed on only two occasions — in 1984 and at the reunion with Steve McCurry this year — and she had never seen her famous portrait before it was shown to her in January. She married shortly after McCurry first met her, and had four daughters, one of whom died in infancy. A Pashtun, she is a dedicated wife and mother, holding tight to the traditions of her culture and religion.
Because Sharbat Gula has come to symbolize the suffering of an entire generation of Afghan women and their children, the National Geographic Society is creating a special fund to assist in the development and delivery of educational opportunities for young Afghan women and girls. The Society will work with select nonprofit organizations and local authorities in the region to create the program.
Contributions to the National Geographic “Afghan Girls Fund” can be made online at www.nationalgeographic.com or by sending a check directly to the National Geographic Afghan Girls Fund, Development Office, National Geographic Society, 1145 17th Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20036.