The two images, whilst remarkably similar in composition, carry such different meanings and outcomes for the subjects.
In Mc Queens image he took the photo of the most striking looking girl at an Afghan school, the girl was around 12 years old, and he didn’t ask her name. It wasn’t until 2002 that he undertook the task of finding out his model's name.
Her name is Sharbat Gula.
In Mc Queen's own words, he says:
"I think part of the chord that it struck in people all over the world is this combination of a young girl who's very pretty, yet there seems to be something troubling about her," he said. "There's a dignity, there's a fortitude. There's a lot of different levels."
There are reports that Mc Queen asked Gula to remove her face covering to obtain the image which was banned in the community she was based in and in recent years Mc Queens “photo journalistic” credentials have come into question with some photographers and organizations accusing him of “poverty porn”, exploitation and staging images.
Whilst Mc Queen gained fame for this image it took 17 years for Gula to know her image was iconic the world over. Since the image was taken of her, she had suffered through the refugee system for most of her life until finally finding refuge in Italy in 2021.
Jodi Biebers image, in contrast to Mc Queens was part of a project where she got to know her subjects' names and stories. Aisha had been mutilated due to leaving her husband, and Biebers intention was to empower her subject, to give agency and to get the barbaric treatment of Afghan women to the world.
Sarah Phillips of The Guardian says;
“For me, the photograph, which won the 2010 World Press Photo award, speaks about violence against women: a domestic war. It doesn't happen in every country quite like this, but anyone who has been violated might identify. Most people who suffer are portrayed as victims rather than as powerful: this shows Aisha as a survivor.”
The image is just as much about violence against women as it is a documentary about war.
Aisha's image inspired the charity Women for Afghan Women to help Aisha where she has had reconstruction surgery and now lives in the USA where she is studying and hopes to become a police woman.
These images both show women in war torn areas, but one was used to exploit the subject, her being left nameless, with no help from the photographer and showed a pretty and glamourous view of war. The photographer gained world fame whilst his subject stayed a victim of war to this day even though she has found refuge in Italy.
The other showed the reality of what women were facing in Afghanistan and helped empower her not only when having the image taken, but also to move forwards getting the physical and psychological help she needs as a victim of war.
I view these images as exploitation vs empowerment