McCurry’s Afghan girl presents itself as a portrait of a young girl in Afghanistan–a look into a distant Afghanistan, where war and poverty had torn through people’s lives. But the story behind the photograph is also a mirror. It’s a reminder of the ways in which seemingly exotic faces and stories can be exploited for personal profit.
I now keep the story of the Afghan girl in mind whenever working on a project–especially when working with foreign communities that I might risk presenting as exotic and distant. There is often a pressure to portray scenes in a way that will maximize instagram likes, or seem deserving of an iconic yellow border.
My perception of the Sharbat fiasco is a reminder that the documentarian must avoid these temptations and connect meaningfully, genuinely and symmetrically with one’s subject. It prompts me to recall one of my favorite quotes from Australian Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson:
“If you have come here for charity, you are wasting our time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up in mine, let us work together.”
- Lilla Watson.
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