Afghan Mona Lisa: The Story of the Girl Whose Eyes Captivated the World

In 1984, photographer Steve McCurry shot a portrait titled “Afghan Girl” that would become the defining image of his career and one of the most famous National Geographic covers ever published. In 2002, McCurry was able to locate the subject, Sharbat Gula, and learn her story. National Geographic then published a fascinating piece telling the story of the photo, the search, and the subject:

The reunion between the woman with green eyes and the photographer was quiet. On the subject of married women, cultural tradition is strict. She must not look—and certainly must not smile—at a man who is not her husband. She did not smile at McCurry. Her expression, he said, was flat. She cannot understand how her picture has touched so many. She does not know the power of those eyes.

Some interesting facts: McCurry shot the photo on Kodachrome using a Nikon FM2 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.5. Gula’s identity was confirmed by comparing her iris to the Afghan Girl’s. Although she had never seen her famous portrait, Gula distinctly remembers sitting for the photo — it was one of the only times in her life that she had a photo taken of her.

A Life Revealed [National Geographic Magazine]

Image credits: Photographs by Steve McCurry/National Geographic

  • Matt Foster

    Was there an update to this story recently or something? Why is a 10 year old story being posted about now?

  • kabummmm

    mhm.. i rather would not have seen the “after” photo.. it destroys the mistery… and it makes me unhappy to see that she looks so unhappy.

    in fact im a bit angry that this was forced on me by PP.
    if i had the choice to click to see her today i would not have clicked.
    i love the original photo but seeing here this way makes me sick.

    im happy that i missed the original story back in 2002…

  • monteraz

    I wonder how he could get that snapshot with such an obsolete gear… [ironic]

  • Joshua Morin

    She’s not allowed to smile. It doesn’t say that she is unhappy!

  • PhotoStorys

    Still an amazing shot, so captivating.

  • DeZ

    Thats not a snapshot (“Gula distinctly remembers sitting for the photo”), and it is not an obsolete gear. Still one of the best camera+lens combo.

  • Michael Spotts


  • Matt

    wow, really?

  • monteraz

    know the meaning of “ironic”?

  • harumph

    Internets! Everything old is new again, apparently. I also remember seeing an old National Geographic tv special that followed McCurry as he tracked her down. But yeah, this was all 10 years ago.

  • Joshua Morin

    “On the subject of married women, cultural tradition is strict. She must
    not look—and certainly must not smile—at a man who is not her husband.”

  • Anto de Chav

    Anything pre nikon D800 is not even real photography at all… ;-) in fact we should have a new calendar starting at A.D. the year of the D800…

  • eraserhead12

    sad to think that in the 1930’s, leaders were acknowledging how antiquated some of these customs were.. what happened?

  • franji1

    Because Steve McCurry, the person who took the picture, was given the task by National Geographic and Kodak to finish the LAST roll of Kodachrome film EVER, back in 2009. The 30 minute National Geographic documentary was just recently released and can be seen here:

  • kcimsan

    Yes, agree it’s anything but a snapshot and to call any camera, especially a Nikon, obsolete is ignorant. Do you think it was obsolete in 1984? To use your logic, Ansel Adams used obsolete gear in the 40s. Yikes.

  • Richard Sagarsee
  • iAwani

    i wish i could have those green eyes. So my face will be on the cover of next Nat Geo issue. LOL .. ahaha..

  • iAwani

    yeah, so much gear..