The Look of Hope

National Geographic: Afghanistand RefugeeIn 1985, the June issue of National Geographic arrived and I was instantly hypnotized by the photograph on the cover: Afghanistan Refugee by Steve McCurry. This was the first awakening of my appreciation for and desire to contribute to the visual arts. It is now 20 years later, and that image still has the same mesmerizing and haunting effect.

National Geographic: Afghanistand RefugeeThe Afghanistan Refugee photograph is my generation's image to represent hope in spite of uncontrollable circumstances. Generations of yesteryears may recall Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, Nipoma, California, 1935. The two are different in composition, subject treatment, time period, technique, etc. However, they both hold the same message: don't forget about us. [click on images to enlarge]

I negotiated with the people at National Geographic Magazine for more than two months to obtain permission to repost the image here. I had to make it clear this was not a money-making blog/website, and to properly credit the source. Unless someone sends me money (please don't!), then I am not breaching my obligation.

What were your thoughts when you first saw either images? What other strong images stand out in your mind? This has been a Mona Lisa Smile moment.

tags: ....
another point of view ...

Anonymous Anonymous

I'm so thrilled to come across this post!! I showed my grandmother, and here's what she said to type in:

"I am fortunate to be to have seen both images. The fear, the intensity of the girl's face filled me with tears. I did read the follow up the story just a few years ago, she now has her own family and the ravages of war can be seen her in face.

As for the Depression Mother, that is one moment in my history that I hope will never be repeated. It was a terrible time for us. I'm really angry to see what Bush is doing to this country."

My grandmother said thank you for bringing back some memories. I'm sure she'll tell me more during dinner.

Anonymous Whitney

That girl's face is full of fear, you can see it in her eyes. I can't imagine coping, much less living, in a situation she was (is) in. - Whitney

Blogger Peri

Nam, your posts are so "quality" and thought provoking!
I have seen both of these photos, and I thought they said "I am strong, and will survive this" and also, "Tell my story".

Blogger mquest

Cant you just ask a simple question? The image you mention Afghanistan Refugee is a highlight of Photography. I do remember seeing it and being struck by it.
There are three post 9/11 images that struck me in a powerful way.
One is of the building collapsing with body's falling to the ground. The picture is really a silhouette picture with no detail. The people and falling and chunks have no “spirit” These people are abstract they could be anyone. The picture affected me greatly because my mind had to supply all the information.
A picture of a women covered in dust. Her eyes are bright and the only white in a completely gray picture. For a moment in time the phrase the “eyes are the windows to the soul” is the truest of statements.

The third picture is a photo that I only saw once but told a complete story. It was of a rescue worker and his dog. They were both were filthy. Both the dog and the rescue worker were sound asleep and curled up with each using the other as a pillow. The picture spoke of exhaustion and trust. I only saw the picture once and my memory of it may be slightly wrong. But, this image and they way I see it in my mind is forever scorched into my soul.
Other than that most of the images that I have stuck in my head come straight out of books. I will have to ponder this subject for a few days.

Blogger Canadian Dude

Excellent post, Nam. The eyes are what caught my attention. There is so much meaning in the eyes.

I finally added your blog to my listing of blogs that I visit.


Blogger Nam LaMore

anonymous: for all our sake, i hope your grandmother is right: we won't see the likes of the 40's depression again. enjoy your dinner!

whitney: i agree with you .. her eyes are captivating. i won't compare the power of words over images, both are powerful in their own ways. this picture, her eyes, can probably fill a few aisles in a library with books on psychology, art history, poetry, politics, etc.

Blogger Nam LaMore

peri: gosh, i'm not doing so good with my mission statement! my posts aren't thought-provoking, the images are! but, thank you .. i accept your compliment.

yes, the photos do invite you to find out more about the subjects' stories while already telling you "i am strong, and will survive this" and this is why i love portraits, they are so compelling that way - they only begin to tell a story, and more awaits in the discovery away from the images.

Blogger Nam LaMore

mquest: the simplest questions often has the most curious and complex of answers. for instance, asking "who are you" and "what do you want" are simple questions (they are major themes in sci-fi show babylon 5) and yet, they reveal philosophical differences in the order and pattern of the universe.

i know of the 9/11 images you speak of .. those images galvanized the country.

in college, i wrote a paper for art history around the impact of photography; this art form, more than any other, 'capture' a moment and, yet, everyone became a historian (much like blogging allows everyone to 'publish'). my essay perished in a quarter-end-bonefire ritual, but i can go into detail if you wish.

Blogger Nam LaMore

canadian dude: thank you. i am doing a batch add to my template tonight .. i've started to read your blog religiously.

completely agree, in portraits the eyes need to speak for the subjects .. and the eyes of these subjects tell stories that keep us hanging.

Blogger Peri

speaking of portrait/stories & cemeteries, check out my post on my other blog if you have time:
How I tracked down a dead ancestor to an unmarked grave in a Chicago cemetery.

Blogger Nam LaMore

peri: hmmm .. you have another blog?!? that's so ludicrous that you can keep multiple blogs .. i can hardly manage to maintain one! where do you get all this energy from, is there an extra sun where you are?

i'll go to the other blog immediately, you know how much i love cemetaries .. didn't you know, stephen king and i hang out all the time? :-)

Blogger Kallun

I saw a documentary the other day about the National Geographic girl - she's older now, but she still has the same powerful eyes - its amazing.

Blogger Nam LaMore

kallun: hmmm .. didn't know there was a documentary, i remember reading a follow-up story about five years back. i'll have to track down the documentary at the library! thanks for the heads-up.

Blogger Knottyboy

I remember this issue. I also caught the Geo special they did in search of this woman. Really amazing to think that picture captured the ideals and hearts of so many. She had no idea. I wonder how often that happens with our lives?

Blogger TrueJerseyGirl

That pic of the Afghani girl is still so poignant. You can't help but look into those eyes and can only imagine what they have seen.

Blogger Nam LaMore

knottyboy: damn, again, no TV is causing me much distress .. perhaps i need to bow under pressure and shell out for TV.

i do think that what you said (She had no idea), happens alot. a single kind word to a grief-stricken stranger can have a huge impact .. i think that was the basis for it's a wonderful life. :-)

Blogger Nam LaMore

truejerseygirl: you said it, sister! it's so powerful, so intense that i cannot stare into those eyes for long .. less i become emotionally drained for the rest of the day.

Blogger Dutched Pinay on Expatriation

Hey Nam,

I watched the National Geographic show where Steve McCurry searched for this girl back in Afganistan. He was successful in tracing her... it was I think the husband or brother of the girl who recognized the photograph Steve showed to people he met along the way. He in fact took another foto of the girl, who was then a grown woman already. He then compared the photos, and both have the SAME HYPNOTIZING EYES, but the face has changed... she has become older. That was one of the best programs I ever watched with National Geographic, was so thrilled that he found the girl he took the photo during the war.

Blogger Nam LaMore

the dutched pinay: no luck yet in tracking down the program that so many people have commented about; perhaps it will not show up in the libraries for a few more months or more. spending library budget is a tough job -- so many layers of approval.

though i haven't seen the documentary program, i did read the magazine's story to find her. and i remember seeing the side-by-side comparison of the subject in her younger- and older-self. she was now in a purple garment and her face seemed worn, but her eyes were still penetrating and revealing.

Blogger HowBizarre

You continue to amaze me! That picture is haunting!
I almost looks as though it was edited in a paint program and someone tried to clone her eyes. Then you wonder what those eyes have seen and what she has been through at such a young age. And all of this takes place in a split second while you just can't take your eyes off of her eyes.

Very compelling!

Blogger Nam LaMore

howbizarre: these are two images that i truly think define the 'human experience' -- i am sure there are more compelling images out there, but these two evoke the strongest from me.

you are so right, her eyes looked digitally manipulated. but i understand this was before such fad played with photography.

speak up!

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