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National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, most famous for his image of Afghan woman Sharbat Gula, signs a copy of his book after speaking about his work. [Avi Berkowitz/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

Sharbat Gula.

Her piercing green eyes and deep red shawl are instantly recognizable, but her name remains unfamiliar.

In 1985, National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry captured the gaze of this young woman that not only graced the cover of his magazine, but also became the symbol of the Afghan refugee. Eighteen years later, his journey with her and photography -- a journey he shared with over 100 Penn students and community members Wednesday night -- is far from over.

A distinctive scar on Gula's nose helped McCurry to recapture that same gaze years afterward. Her present-day features indicate "what a hard life she must have had," he said to the packed auditorium.

The photojournalist showed slides and described his experiences covering stories that have taken him everywhere from Southeast Asia to the World Trade Center.

But McCurry's life, defined by photography, could have taken a completely different route. The Penn State cinematography major, who had shot for his student newspaper The Collegiate, decided that he would choose a career based on the first job offer he received after graduation.

That happened to be at the small Today's Post in Newtown Square, Pa., taking pictures of women's clubs, Little League games and high school graduations -- a far cry from the exclusive Magnum Photo Agency to which he now belongs.

After two and a half years, McCurry had saved enough money to fulfill his dream of traveling to Asia. He planned to work for only six weeks but ended up staying two years.

"When Russia invaded [Afghanistan] in '79, I took all these pictures that got published all over the world," McCurry said.

As a result, he became a stringer for Time and eventually maneuvered his way into working for the esteemed National Geographic -- his dream publication.

Although McCurry has covered events from the Gulf War to the Sept. 11 attacks, he maintains an affinity for Southeast Asia because of the region's lighting and intense colors.

"Whenever I go back to a place, I always find something new, something different," McCurry said, describing his ability to continue making innovative images over the past few decades.

And audience members agreed, barely able to suppress their admiration for his photographs. During the question-and-answer session, one directly complemented McCurry, saying, "Your images are profoundly powerful, without question, but they are also profoundly beautiful despite the horror that some of them may show."

College senior Jana Carrey felt that she could identify with his work, as she has traveled through New Zealand, Australia and Thailand.

"Ever since I've been interested in photography, I've dreamed of working for National Geographic," she said.

McCurry has inspired many other photographers as well, particularly because he can document "found-situations" using little more than natural light and the drive to make the perfect picture. It was this ability that allowed him to capture Gula's face not once, but twice.

Side-by-side, the images of Gula -- taken years apart -- accomplish a goal of photojournalism by visually narrating a story, not only giving the world an inside look at Afghan culture, but also portraying its effects on one woman's life.

A collection of his work is on display in the Fisher Fine Arts Library's Arthur Ross Gallery, where it will remain until May 25.

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