Eureka!: Inventors describe the moment they realised they’d created a hit

From The Independent:

Steve McCurry, photographer

The Afghan Girl

Afghanit was a fleeting moment, one I knew I had to capture. I was on an assignment for National Geographic photographing displaced Afghans in a refugee camp in Pakistan, just outside Peshawar. I stumbled upon a tent which was being used as a girls' school. It was chaos, then there, across the room I saw that girl – those eyes – I knew at once I'd found the one. Sometimes as a photographer, on some sort of intuitive level you can feel the power of what is in front of you. This girl was very pretty, but it was more than that. It was clear from her face that she'd experienced more than you or I could imagine. There was no ambiguity that this was something quite extraordinary, and I didn't have much time.

I was shooting with a tripod on Kodachrome 64, a transparency slide film, which is slow. I was worried if I approached the girl straight away she might say no, so I photographed a few of her friends first, trying to create a situation where she didn't want to be excluded. Nobody spoke English, so we used sign language to communicate. In this part of the world, classes are conducted on the floor; no tables or desks. You don't really direct people in that kind of situation, you just take what is offered. The girl was sitting on the ground. There was an amazing light coming into the tent behind her; I positioned my camera so that it fell on her face. I tried to stay calm and focused because I knew this was a special moment and that for a minute she'd be amused by the strange man with his strange equipment, and then she'd bore and wander off. There was so much motion in the classroom, kids screaming, dust; it wasn't this sort of still, profound moment when she revealed herself. I only had a chance to take a few exposures before she walked away. I could see the image in my mind, but I didn't know how it would have translated to film. I sent the film back to the States but I had more work to do here so I didn't see the results until a few weeks later. The magazine's photo editor and I edited the film down to two slides. I liked this picture, but he thought it was too haunting; he preferred one with her hand covering part of her face. We agreed to present both to the editor, who leapt to his feet and said: “This is our next cover!”. Sometimes you just know.

Afghan Girl first appeared on the cover of 'National Geographic' in June 1985 and was later the subject of a TV documentary, 'Search for the Afghan Girl'

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