Studio Employee Pleads Guilty in ‘Afghan Girl’ Theft

Twenty-two photographs are still missing.

Steve McCurry, Sharbat Gula, Afghan Girl, Pakistan (1984).Photo: Courtesy of artnet Auctions
Steve McCurry, Sharbat Gula, Afghan Girl, Pakistan (1984). Courtesy of artnet Auctions.

Art studio employee Bree DeStephano pleaded guilty to stealing photographs from renowned photojournalist Steve McCurry, reports the Daily Local News. McCurry is best known for his June 1985 National Geographic cover Afghan Girl, an image of a young woman with haunting green eyes take at a refugee camp a year earlier.

DeStephano was arrested in June 2015 and accused of stealing $655,000 worth of photos from McCurry. Her guilty plea included three third degree felony charges: theft, conspiracy, and criminal use of a communication facility. DeStephano confessed in an affidavit taken by Chester County Detective Martin Carbonel, the lead investigator in the case.

Bree DeStephano (left) pleaded guilty to stealing more than $200,000 from photographer Steven McCurry, including his famous image Afghan Girl (right). Courtesy of the Chester County District Attorney and Steve McCurry.

Bree DeStephano (left) pleaded guilty to stealing more than $200,000 from photographer Steven McCurry, including his famous image Afghan Girl (right). Courtesy of the Chester County District Attorney and Steve McCurry.

 

As an employee at Steve McCurry Studio in Exton, Pennsylvania, DeStephano conspired with Brandon Donahue of Colorado’s Open Shutter Gallery to sell photographs stolen from McCurry’s studio. DeStephano also admitted to using the fictitious Marc German Art gallery to help create a convincing paper trail to help cover up her crimes.

Donahue and DeStephano sold an unauthorized forged print of Afghan Girl print to a buyer named Dick Coplan. Afghan Girl was one of at least 28 photographs DeStephano sold through the scheme. Some 22 images still listed as missing by the gallery do not appear to have been sold through Open Shutter.

Steve McCurry in Kuwait in 1991. Courtesy of Steve McCurry.

Steve McCurry in Kuwait in 1991. Courtesy of Steve McCurry.

McCurry still recalls taking the famous image while stationed at a refugee camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He spotted Sharbat Gula, then age 12, studying in a makeshift classroom for girls, and was instantly drawn to her striking eyes.

“Her shawl and the background, the colors had this wonderful harmony,” McCurry recalled in 2015 interview with NPR. “All I really had to do was click the shutter.”


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share

Article topics