Saturday, 21 February 2009

Sharbat Gula - شربت ګله - Afghan Girl

... a modern icon of innocence ... 

Some captured images work their way into our deep consciousness and the photograph of the Afghan Girl is one that we all know. We've seen it; we've been stirred by it; we recognise it; it's there. A bit like Che Guevara or Monroe. Even when we don't know it, we know it. For me, that makes the image of Sharbat Gula something of a modern icon - appearing in magazines, posters, TV, the Internet, (and though copyrighted) very much in the public domain.

Rather paradoxically we say modern icon, for the 'Afghan Girl' leads a very traditional Pashtoon life, and knew nothing of her 17 years as a public figure, where her image adorned photo-books on coffee tables the world over. Sharbat Gula (شربت ګله, Rose Sherbet) was forced to leave her home in Afghanistan during the Soviet War for a refugee camp in Pakistan where she was photographed by journalist Steve McCurry. The image was featured on the June 1984 cover of National Geographic Magazine, at a time when she was approximately 13 years old. Gula was known throughout the world simply as the Afghan Girl until she was formally identified in early 2002.

Who in fact 'owns' the public image and whether a 'copyright' and the profit arising from it should belong to the photographer, continues to generate debate. For the 'Afghan Girl' fame and image are largely immaterial. Sharbat Gula represents the heart and soul; the complex acceptance of what is Afghanistan - she was married in her early teens and in her maturity, she follows a traditional code and has a life of few luxuries; she wears a burka outside the house before strangers and speaks of peace under the Taleban.

Tor_Khan تور خان

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