Green Eyes, No Eyes

Steve McCurry’s work deserves accolades and study. It’s socially responsible. You will see that which you could not visit, or do not want to visit.

I tried to describe in words what is going on with his most famous photograph, the green-eyed Afghan Girl. At first, I cheated and called it “a cipher”: something ineffable, something that signifies nothing. That’s something of an excuse for not knowing what to say about it. (How many things are actually ciphers?)

Here’s the “reading” that led me there. You are entranced by the eyes and then swallowed by them: everything outside the frame falls away. Then the tattered clothing falls away. Then the facial expression falls away (is that anger? Calm anger?). Then the face falls away. Then the eyes fall away: this photograph is what it feels like to be looked at so that I cannot speak, and almost so that I cannot even see anymore.

Everytime I see the image, I think of Gerhard Richter’s painting Betty.

Betty, 1988 102 cm X 72 cm. Oil on canvas.

Is this painting closer to being totally different to the McCurry photograph, or the same image?

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