Acclaimed photographer Steve McCurry captured the beauty of Afghanistan for almost 4 decades. He describes his hopes and fears for its people after the Taliban takeover.

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Steve McCurry Afghanistan
A woman feeding doves near the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, 1991. © Steve McCurry/Magnum Photo
  • Legendary photographer Steve McCurry has visited Afghanistan more than 30 times.

  • McCurry told Insider he is "heartbroken" about what has happened to the country in recent weeks.

  • He hopes to return to the country soon and believes Afghans will have the strength to move forward.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Over the span of almost four decades, Steve McCurry has witnessed Afghanistan in war and peace.

The legendary American photographer became one of the first to capture the brutal Soviet-Afghan conflict in 1979. He disguised himself in salwar kameez and turban at the time to smuggle rolls of his film across the Afghan border.

In the years that followed, he accompanied Mujahideen fighters into the remotest parts of the country, photographed Afghans as they tried to rebuild their lives, and made friends with hundreds of locals.

Steve McCurry Afghanistan
Returning war refugees coming to find work in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2002. © Steve McCurry/Magnum Photo

So as the Taliban took control of Kabul last month, sparking chaotic evacuations and two deadly suicide bombings, McCurry couldn't help but feel heartbroken.

"It's really devastating to see the situation now," McCurry told Insider from his home in Pennsylvania.

"My experience in Afghanistan was always very good. The people are wonderful, hospitable, hardworking, and have a great sense of humor, but things just went terribly wrong."

Steve McCurry Afghanistan
Hindu Kush Mountains, Afghanistan in 1984. © Steve McCurry/Magnum Photo

The last time McCurry visited Afghanistan was in 2016.

At the time, he captured a much more peaceful life. Women walking unaccompanied on the streets, little girls attending school, and men praying in mosques.

Steve McCurry Afghanistan
Schoolgirl in Herat, Afghanistan, 1992. © Steve McCurry/Magnum Photo

"People had hopes, dreams, and were aspiring to do something. There was kind of a normal aspiration that you would expect in literally every other country in the world," he said.

"But now it's become very dark for a lot of people. Their hopes of becoming whatever their dreams were have been dashed," he added.

Steve McCurry Afghanistan
Kabul, Afghanistan in March, 2016. © Steve McCurry/Magnum Photo

McCurry, originally from Pennsylvania, has been a photojournalist since 1979 and has traveled all over the world.

He said he keeps coming back to Afghanistan because it is "such a fascinating story, an important story."

"It's human, I think has huge human and political and geopolitical and human parts to it," he said.

Steve McCurry Afghanistan
Afghan Girl. © Steve McCurry/Magnum Photo

The photographer's claim to fame came in 1984 when he took a picture of 12-year-old Sharabat Gula, also known as "Afghan girl," in a refugee camp in Pakistan.

The photo was featured on the front cover of National Geographic multiple times and became one of the most recognized images ever. But it is by far his favorite.

"It was popular when it first came out," he told The Guardian. "But the phenomena around it grew over the years. It is a fine picture and it's better to be remembered for one than not at all."

McCurry and a team from National Geographic tracked down Gula in 2002 as part of a documentary.

Steve McCurry Afghanistan
Kunduz, Afghanistan in 2003. © Steve McCurry/Magnum Photo

In 2016, Gula found herself in the spotlight again after being arrested by Pakistani police on suspicion of forging an identity document.

A year later, the Afghan government gave her and her family a house in Kabul. It is unknown where she is now.

Steve McCurry Afghanistan
Mujahadeen fighters pose for a group portrait in Afghanistan, 1980. © Steve McCurry/Magnum Photo

Despite the turmoil the country has faced over decades, McCurry remains hopeful.

He plans on going back within the next few years and says he believes Afghans will "pull through this."

"They're some of the most resilient people I know. They have a great deal of dignity. And I think that the vast majority will, you know, gathered the strength to move forward," he said.

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