No one knows Afghanistan quite like photojournalist Steve McCurry. The American’s association with the country dates back to the late 1970s, when in Pakistan he met a group of Afghan refugees fleeing the Russian invasion and decided to take a closer look for himself. What has happened to Afghanistan in the intervening years is a matter of historical record – the CIA-led backing of the Mujahideen, bankrolled by Charlie Wilson’s government millions, and the subsequent changing of the tide from Western ally to fierce foe – but through it all, McCurry has remained, looking at the country from every angle and human standpoint.
McCurry shot to fame (in photographic circles at least) with his National Geographic cover of June 1985, which used an image called The Afghan Girl. The picture of Sharbat Gula, with her fiercely defiant, piercing eyes and torn headscarf would become a symbol of the nine-year Soviet-Afghan conflict, but McCurry’s 30 years in Afghanistan, in which he lived with civilian and military groups, produced some harrowing documentary work alongside the noble portraits. A selection of his Afghan oeuvre is being shown by London’s Beetles + Huxley next month: Steve McCurry’s Afghanistan runs from 12 May to 7 June.