‘Afghan girl’ cameraman tells stories behind pictures

‘Afghan girl’ cameraman tells stories behind pictures
Updated 29 January 2014

‘Afghan girl’ cameraman tells stories behind pictures

‘Afghan girl’ cameraman tells stories behind pictures

Photographer Steve McCurry remembers exactly how he got his famed 1983 shot of two Pakistani waiters passing a tea tray precariously along the outside of a moving train.
“I leaned out the window and someone was holding my legs but I was thinking, ‘Oh no this is not going to end well’,” he said, recalling the photograph he took one morning three decades ago as breakfast was served between Peshawar and Lahore.
Hanging perilously from hand rails between the dining car and first class, the waiters dressed in white uniforms and green and gold turbans were passing the tray along the outside of the carriages because the connecting doors had been locked for security reasons.
McCurry, 63, whose many memorable images have earned him a reputation as one of the foremost photographers of his generation, says he weighed up the risk and decided it was worth it.
“I’d rather take the risk than not take the risk and then always wonder if I should have. I think there’s nothing worse than being timid,” he told AFP in an interview in Paris.
“Sometimes you just have to evaluate the risk and say ‘you know what, I have to do this’,” he said.
It’s just one of many stories behind the photographs recounted in McCurry’s latest book, “Steve McCurry Untold.”
In it, he revisits not only some of his best-known images but also decades’ worth of notes, letters and other ephemera such as tickets and receipts.
Packed away and forgotten in drawers and cupboards after returning from assignments over the years, they give a sense of the planning and technical difficulties involved in capturing such pictures.
“It’s almost like archaeology, things, layers, stacks of things accumulated as years and decades passed,” he said.
“Documents and pictures that were not part of the story, that were never published, but were still a piece of the puzzle,” he said.
McCurry’s career has taken him all over the world but he says the majority of his time has been spent between Afghanistan and Burma and in Sri Lanka and Tibet.
Arguably his best-known image is that of the young “Afghan girl” he photographed in 1984 in a refugee camp in north-west Pakistan at the time of the Soviet occupation.
Camps had sprung up along the Afghan-Pakistan border and many refugees had been living there for years in conditions of great hardship. Between August and November 1984 McCurry visited most of the 30-odd camps.
It was on a visit to one of these that he encountered the girl, whose name he later learned to be Sharbat Gula, and whose photograph appeared on the front cover of National Geographic magazine in June 1985.
Coming across her in a class at a camp school, he immediately noticed her piercing green eyes and set about taking her portrait.
“For a few seconds everything was perfect, the light, the background, the expression in her eyes,” he recalled in the book.
In fact, that photograph nearly did not make the front cover as another of the same girl had been selected.
But the magazine’s editor in chief made a habit of viewing the photographs that had been considered and discarded for the cover and was immediately struck by his other shot.
The image prompted an immediate reaction from readers and was later voted the most recognized photograph in the magazine’s history.
McCurry says he has always gravitated toward portrait photography.
“I love portraits, I love examining the human face,” he said.
In 2002, without even knowing her name — the photographer went back to Pakistan with a film crew to try and find Gula.
In the intervening years her image had come to symbolize the suffering of the Afghan refugee but her life in Afghanistan had been hard and she was unaware of its impact.
The family did not ask for money but McCurry and the magazine made it clear they wanted to help.
Over the subsequent years they were able to ensure in various ways — such as medical treatment and a pilgrimage to Makkah — that she and her family also shared in photograph’s success.
McCurry said meeting people in such conditions of suffering or hardship and then leaving without being able help them materially or change their plight was something all photographers and journalists had to grapple with.
“It’s a terrible thing and it probably affects you deeply,” he said.
“But the only way we really know what is happening in the world is by people reporting on it... so I guess we just have to think ‘how can I contribute?’.
“And the way I can contribute is by photography and raising awareness so people are informed,” he said.

THE BREAKDOWN: Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige discuss ‘Cedar IV, A Reconstitution’

THE BREAKDOWN: Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige discuss ‘Cedar IV, A Reconstitution’
Updated 26 February 2021

THE BREAKDOWN: Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige discuss ‘Cedar IV, A Reconstitution’

THE BREAKDOWN: Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige discuss ‘Cedar IV, A Reconstitution’

DUBAI: Through their 2011 installation, The Paris-based Lebanese duo reflect on their 2011 installation, inspired by the Lebanese Rocket Society from the 1960s.

Lebanese Rocket Society. (Supplied)

Hadjithomas: It all started with my sister. She was researching Lebanese history and came across this story about rockets being launched from Lebanon (in the Sixties). It stayed in our minds. A few years later, we saw the stamp of the Cedar IV rocket, which was issued in 1964, and we thought it was really interesting. 

Joreige: We wondered why such a positive project disappeared from our history and memory. 

H: The Lebanese Rocket Society started in 1960 at Haigazian University. There was a professor — Manoug Manougian — who was really fond of rocketry. His students started making rockets and propellants at the university. The Lebanese Army joined in, but for Manoug and his students it was always an educational project — never a military one.

J: It wasn’t nationalistic either. Most of the people involved weren’t Lebanese — they came from all over the region. Through education, they were building peace.

H: They thought they were contributing to the space race — they were contemporary to the rest of the world, researching this fascination that people had for space. It’s about hope and dreams. So we felt that we should tell this story and find all the people that participated. That was not easy because they were scattered all around the world.

J: We had to think about different strategies of reactivating the past in the present.

H: So we rebuilt a rocket with the help of Sharjah Biennale and we offered it to Haigazian University. Reconstitution is a way of giving matter — reality — to our lost memories. That’s why it was important to redo the rocket exactly as it was. We chose Cedar IV because it was one of the most successful, but we didn’t put the Lebanese flag on it.

 J: if you put a flag on it, it would become national and militaristic. By keeping it white, it’s a place of projection, a ghostly presence.

H: Today, it seems like a military missile but it’s not. 

J: The UAE probe (which reached Mars on Feb. 9) is called “Hope.” When you are targeting another dimension, something you don’t know, it is always a question of hope.

H: Lebanon is very rich in its people, but we are hostages of people that are corrupt and think only about themselves. We were really happy for the UAE when “Hope” reached Mars, and I think the Lebanese reacted to it because they felt they should also be dreaming — and having the possibility to reconstruct and free themselves from those corrupt people.

Escape to Cape Town

Escape to Cape Town
Updated 26 February 2021

Escape to Cape Town

Escape to Cape Town
  • The most prestigious venues in South Africa’s tourism capital have never been more affordable

DUBAI: The silence atop Table Mountain on a cloudless afternoon in December is an experience only the COVID-19 pandemic could have brought. 

As one of the most popular hikes (or cable-car rides, if you’d prefer an easier climb) in Cape Town, the summit is usually thronging with people wielding selfie sticks and smartphones whatever the day, leaving you jostling for a decent view of the famed Twelve Apostles to the left, and the sweeping city and harbor to the right. But on this Friday evening we find ourselves alone except for our guide and a peppy rock hyrax for company. 

Naturally, South Africa’s tourism capital is a different place during the pandemic. Like elsewhere in the world, it’s largely devoid of international travellers. This is bad news for the country’s tourism industry, but a positive point if you’re one of the few choosing to head abroad.

In Franschhoek, the picturesque valley filled with vineyards just north-east of Cape Town, a seat at one of the country’s premier restaurants has never been easier to come by. (Shutterstock)

The city’s top hotels are offering large discounts to entice travellers in. And Cape Town’s premier attractions — including its world-renowned restaurants — are easier to get into then ever.

South Africa opened its doors to tourists on November 1, but has since faced challenges in being perceived as a safe place to visit. In December, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the country was in a second wave of infections, one that was crippling the hospital system. The South African variant of COVID-19 was also discovered. Flights into and out of the country were cancelled. Ramaphosa closed beaches and public parks and enforced a number of other restrictions in perceived hotspots — including Nelson Mandela Bay and the famous Garden Route. The move was another blow for the tourism industry there, which, after a tough lockdown period earlier in the year, was relying on the incoming flock of domestic tourists for the festive season. 

If you’re staying at the One and Only Cape Town, seek out David. (Shutterstock)

Cape Town and the surrounding area escaped strict restrictions, however. Its beaches, as well as the sparkling white bays and the quirky towns dotted around Cape Peninsula (Hout Bay, Kalk Bay, Muizenberg etc) are humming with locals. It’s a relative hum, however, with only a few beachfront restaurants nearing capacity and a palpable air of uncertainty. 

Wandering along Cape Town’s beachfront, you’ll be hard-pressed to hear a foreign accent. You can wander through Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and not see another face for long periods of time. On a hike up Table Mountain, you might only encounter a couple of other people on the same route. The uncrowded outdoors beckon.

Many of the hikes in the city (Lion’s Head is another must-do) seem easy enough, but are better attempted with a guide — both for safety and enjoyment. Most hotels will either have one on staff or will be able to arrange one for you. If you’re staying at the One and Only Cape Town, seek out David. He’s knowledgeable about hidden spots on the hike, as well as about the area’s fauna and flora, meaning your hike will be peppered with educational tidbits too. 

Babylonstoren is arguably the region’s most popular spot. (Shutterstock)

One and Only Cape Town is a top choice if you’re looking to stay central — nestled in around the waterfront. Its affable army of staff positioned around the property at all times are vigilant about temperature checks and sanitization, and it’s a diverse enough hotel to mean you never have to leave if you’re nervous about mixing in crowds. A central island of resort-style rooms offer an escape to a tropical island in the middle of the city, surrounded by waterways where you can kayak or paddleboard. 

The hotel is also home to Africa’s only Nobu restaurant. Given the freshness of the catch in this area of the world, it’s the perfect place to break up all your heavy game meals. Better yet, spend a rainy day trying a sushi masterclass and learn Nobu’s famous six-step nigiri method. 

Given the freshness of the catch in this area of the world, it’s the perfect place to break up all your heavy game meals. (Shutterstock)

Best of all, the Western Cape’s world-famous restaurants don’t need to be booked months in advance at the moment. Even in the really touristy areas.

In Franschhoek, the picturesque valley filled with vineyards just north-east of Cape Town, a seat at one of the country’s premier restaurants has never been easier to come by. For instance, at Babylonstoren, arguably the region’s most popular spot, bookings for its restaurant Babel open nine months in advance, with its website recommending booking two or three months in advance. Now, you can book with less than 24-hours notice.

La Residence, Franschhoek’s most beautiful property (and a favorite of Sir Elton John), is a boutique option at the best of times, but now it seems almost as though it’s your own private mansion. The 30-acre estate is positioned on a hillock overlooking the village on one side and with lines of vines on the other, as emboldened peacocks wander around your room, and up to your table at breakfast time. One couple has booked in for 46 nights, which may be a bit much, but it’s hard to blame them, given the (relatively) bargain prices and lack of crowds.

If you’re willing and able to travel — and if the country’s borders are open again — this might be the best possible time to visit this dazzling city.

Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future

Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future
Updated 25 February 2021

Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future

Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future
  • Young artists received mentorship from prominent Saudi creator Manal Al-Dowayan
  • They were participants in Connect ME program, which fosters UK-Gulf artistic exchange

LONDON: An upcoming artist from Saudi Arabia has revealed the results of his collaboration with a British counterpart, launching digital artwork that “seeks to recalibrate viewers’ perception of ‘the other’ culture.”

Riyadh-based Meshal Al-Obaidallah worked with artist Carolin Schnurrer to produce the work, called “FAREWELL ARABIA: A Bold New Vision,” as part of the Connect ME Digital Residency program run by the Arab British Centre.

The initiative pairs young artists from the Gulf with British counterparts to foster artistic collaboration, and to consider how digital tools can encourage connectivity across borders despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the program, the young artists received mentorship from prominent Saudi artist Manal Al-Dowayan.

The work by Al-Obaidallah and Schnurrer explores Saudi Arabia’s rapid development during the 20th century and how it changed society, as well as looking ahead at what the future might hold for the Kingdom.

“Through our exchange, we collected found footage, sound bites, quotes, symbols and other fragments,” said Al-Obaidallah.

“These re-appropriated fragments were processed, destroyed, accelerated, decelerated and rearranged,” he added, describing it as a “mishmash of fact and fiction.” 

Eilidh Kennedy McLean, British Council country director for Saud Arabia, congratulated Al-Obaidallah on representing the Kingdom in the residency, saying: “It is an incredible, interesting time for artists to explore different mediums of collaborations to create and innovate despite the physical restrictions during COVID.” 

Also selected to participate in the Connect ME program were Emirati artist Dina Khatib and British artist Ollie Cameron.

They collaborated to create a work that explores “how visualizing the unseen space between them could become a means for connection and exchange.”

All four artists and their mentor Al-Dowayan will host an online talk on March 3 to discuss the program and their creations in-depth.

Hend Sabri’s ‘Ayza Atgawez’ to return on Netflix after 10 years

Hend Sabri’s ‘Ayza Atgawez’ to return on Netflix after 10 years
Updated 25 February 2021

Hend Sabri’s ‘Ayza Atgawez’ to return on Netflix after 10 years

Hend Sabri’s ‘Ayza Atgawez’ to return on Netflix after 10 years

DUBAI: Egyptian-Tunisian actress Hend Sabri is set to release a new season of her 2010 comedy series “Ayza Atgawez” (“I Want to Get Married”) on the streaming service Netflix, she announced on Thursday.

The new show, directed by Egyptian filmmaker Hady El Bagory, will be called “Al Bahth Aan Ola” which translates to “Finding Ola.”

In the 2010 series, Sabri played the role of Ola, a young pharmacist from a middle-class family who hoped to get married before she turns 30.


A post shared by هند صبري (@hendsabri)

Sabri took to Instagram to reveal the news to her 2.9 million followers. “I am excited because I will meet Ola Abdel Sabour again after 10 years,” she said in a video she shot on set. “Do you remember her? You do for sure. You ask me a lot about her. I am trying to look for her in a new world. We will discover what she did after 10 years.”

“Just like you all changed after 10 years, she also changed. But, some things never change,” she added, revealing that veteran Egyptian actress Susan Badr, who played Ola’s mom, will also be in the show’s new season.


A post shared by هند صبري (@hendsabri)

The show will star Egyptian actors Mahmoud Ellithy and Nada Moussa, who appeared in the one-minute clip that Sabri shared.

Sabry has previously collaborated with Netflix on a campaign, “Because She Watched,” to curate an inspirational film collection on the platform.


A post shared by هند صبري (@hendsabri)

The 41-year-old actress, who has a degree in law, has made history by becoming the first Arab woman to serve as a jury member in the 2019 Venice Film Festival.

Just last month, she was named Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government.


A post shared by هند صبري (@hendsabri)

Sabri, who is a UN goodwill ambassador for the World Food Programme, started acting in 1994 in Tunisia. She then moved to Egypt, where she got married and currently lives, to expand her outreach.

With a career that spans over two decades, she has proven to be one the Arab world’s most iconic actresses with a number of successful films and shows under her belt.

‘News of the World’ offers little that’s new

‘News of the World’ offers little that’s new
Updated 25 February 2021

‘News of the World’ offers little that’s new

‘News of the World’ offers little that’s new
  • Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass reunite on sweet-but-shallow Western

AMSTERDAM: Tom Hanks as an ageing cowboy searching for his place in a world that is changing too rapidly for him? No, this isn’t “Toy Story 4.” Sadly. 

“News of the World” sees Hanks reunite with director Paul Greengrass — the combo behind 2013’s “Captain Phillips.” Here, Hanks plays another captain, Jefferson Kyle Kidd — a veteran of the Confederate army in the US Civil War who now makes a living traveling from town to town reading the news from the latest papers he can find to people who pay 10 cents apiece to hear it. While on the road, he encounters a young German girl by an overturned wagon. She had been kidnapped by Native Americans as an infant and raised as one of their own, but is now being returned to her only surviving relatives by a soldier who has died in their wagon crash. 

“News of the World” sees Tom Hanks reunite with director Paul Greengrass. (Supplied)

Kidd ends up, somewhat convolutedly (but essentially because he’s such a good guy), having to transport the girl, Johanna — who barely speaks German or English — to her aunt and uncle himself; a long, dangerous journey made even more dangerous by predators, both human and animal. As they travel, Kidd tries to connect with Johanna, who clearly identifies as Native American and has no desire for a ‘Western’ life. 

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Hanks in this role, since his name is now pop-culture shorthand for this type of world-weary, kind, level-headed character. Kidd is all of those things. Hanks plays him perfectly. 

Tom Hanks plays the role of a captain, Jefferson Kyle Kidd. (Supplied)

Though billed as a Western, this is no action movie. Instead, it’s a contemplation of a divided nation attempting to pull itself together, and of love and responsibility. Johanna’s actual relatives are far less invested in her welfare than Kidd (they’ve never met before and she is borderline-feral, after all). 

The success of the film rides on the chemistry between Helena Zengel as Johanna and Hanks as her guardian. I wasn’t entirely convinced — in comparison, to say, the similar couple in the Coen brothers’ 2010 take on “True Grit.”

“News of the World” is a sweet, downbeat-but-optimistic movie, and certainly not bad. But it is more notable, ultimately, for the films that it isn’t, rather than the film it is.