Sorry You Weren’t the One to Buy “Afghan Girl”

My apologies.

It’s been more than two months since the National Geographic auction at Christie’s, and I need to set something right.

It’s quite likely that at least one of you, dear readers, saw my post about the sale of Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl at auction, arrived at Christie’s on December 6 with only $12,000 in your pocket, and watched in horror as other bidders immediately left you behind . . . far behind . . . so far behind that you weren’t able to lift your paddle even once.

The pre-auction estimate that I quoted for McCurry’s iconic photo was indeed cited at $8,000 to $12,000 in October, but the estimate listed on Christie’s website, where the photo was displayed, was $30,000 to $50,000. Not that that would have helped a lot anyway, as the print’s winning bid came in at a whopping $178,900 (with the buyer’s premium added to the “hammer price”).

And Afghan Girl wasn’t the only item to bring in an enormous amount of money. N.C. Wyeth’s Duel on the Beach topped the sale at $1,082,500. The entire auction brought in $3,776,587.

I was wondering what would make a print of a photograph worth so much. The anonymous buyer didn’t get the original Kodachrome slide. He didn’t purchase future licensing rights. And he didn’t buy the last copy of the photo ever made.

I think I’ve figured it out, though. The print is signed, of course, and dated. But then comes the really special part. Next to the signature is the marking “1/1.”

That does it for me. Not 1 of 200 or 1 of 10 . . . but 1 of 1.

Afghan Girl truly is an iconic photo. Monica Hess of The Washington Post calls it “the photograph of photographs of photographs” and then describes “the ragged red scarf, the scissors-sharp green eyes, the hungry, hunted, haunted beauty.”

Ah, yes, the eyes.

If you’d like to get a better view of what $178,900 got for one bidder, do this: Go to this link—which will bring you a larger-than-life image of Christie’s “Sale 2603 / Lot 194″—and click on the zoom-in symbol a few times. Re-center the photo and look into those “scissors-sharp green eyes.”

Those eyes. Two of two.

(Monica Hess, “National Geographic’s Auction of Images Fetches $3.8 million,” The Washington Post, December 6, 2012)

[photo: “Steve McCurry: On the Outside Looking In,” by Steve Evans, used under a Creative Commons license]


Get Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” for $8,000 or More, or How about Much, Much Less?

Most online introductions of Steve McCurry say something like “He’s the guy who took the photo of the Afghan girl.” Yes, his portrait of Sharbat Gula, a girl in a refugee camp, was featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985—and became one of the most recognized photographs of all time. But it should also go without saying that McCurry has produced many, many more remarkable photos over his career. He continues to travel the world, capturing the images as they develop before him. As reported in the blog CNN Photos, his philosophy is “travel to a place, work with the locals, and see what emerges.”

If you’d like to own some of McCurry’s photos, including Afghan Girl, there are numerous ways to acquire them, covering a wide range of budgets—from really, really expensive to free. Just in time for Christmas, here are your pricing options, arranged for your convenience from highest to lowest:

$8,000 to $12,000 (estimate)
For the first time, the National Geographic Society is auctioning off some of its vast collection of 11.5 million photographs and illustrations. The sale will take place December 6, at Christie’s, and will include a special print of McCurry’s Afghan Girl. The 240 pieces offered are expected to bring a total of about $3 million, so don’t expect too many bargain-basement prices. (For an update on the auction, see “Sorry You Weren’t the One to Buy ‘Afghan Girl.’“)

Something less than $8,000, I presume
McCurry offers signed fine-art prints of his work at his website. A pdf catalog is available, but prices aren’t included. If you want to find out how much a print costs, you’ll need to contact a lady named Bonnie.

Also available at McCurry’s site. At this price you can get a 20 x 24 inch poster of one of ten McCurry photos. Proceeds go to Imagine Asia.

McCurry has just published a new book, titled Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. It covers his best of the best (165 images) from the last 30 years. Amazon sells the standard hardback at the above price, but if you absolutely have to spend more, there’s the deluxe edition for $248.85 and a signed edition at Phaidon for $79.99.

If you’re like me, then browsing the photos on the Internet will have to do for now. But it’s not a bad alternative. It certainly gives you the best selection. Several of the links above can get you started, but for the most images, go to the galleries at Wow, he definitely has had some amazing things “emerge” in front of his lens.

Hear McCurry tell how he captured the photo Beggar Girl, Bombay, India:

(Elizabeth I. Johnson, “Curiosity Inspires Iconic Photographer,” CNN Photos; Ula Ilnytzky, “National Geographic to Auction Famous Photos, Art,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 23, 2012)

[top photo: “Steve McCurry Exhibit,” by Steve Evans, used under a Creative Commons license; Bottom photo: “Occhi che scrutano” (Eyes that stare), by Giuseppe Nicoloro, used under a Creative Commons license]