Studio Employee Pleads Guilty in ‘Afghan Girl’ Theft
Twenty-two photographs are still missing.
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.
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.
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.”
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