No other medium in art allows people to see the world from different perspectives like photography does. Photographs become a part of history. Photographs give us a glimpse of the world. Photographs have the power to capture events or moments in time we are unaware of or have forgotten. Throughout time, iconic photographs have helped shaped history. Like carefully chosen words, photographs tell a story and share an experience. Historic moments captured in pictures help us as a society understand and learn from past events. No photographer can create the intimacy between subject and viewer like Steve McCurry does.
Who Steve McCurry is
Steve McCurry was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 23, 1950. While his parents would have preferred his original plan to become a history teacher, McCurry believes it would have been a disaster. McCurry has said that his parents were bewildered and perplexed by his youthful wildness. He considers himself a restless person who needs to move, something the routine life of a history teacher no doubt would not offer. He credits his dad’s ability of being good with people and personable as a key to his own success. McCurry believes being good with people is vital to approaching a situation. McCurry went to Penn State to study cinematography and filmmaking and left with a degree in theater arts.
McCurry made his first mark in the photography world when after spending a year in India, he ventured to northern Pakistan. It was there he met two Afghans who told him about the war across the border in Afghanistan. Wearing Afghani garb to disguise himself, McCurry crossed the border into the rebelled controlled areas of Afghanistan right before the Soviet invasion. Taking in the sight of dozens of houses and a few schools that were bombed out, he escaped with rolls of film sewn into his turban and stuffed in his socks. Those haunting images were later published in the New York Times, Time, and Paris Match. They earned McCurry accolades in the form of an award, the first of what would be many to come, The Robert Capa Gold Medal for best photographic reporting from abroad.
It wasn’t McCurry’s first war-related experience as a photographer. He went on to cover the Iran-Iraq War, the Lebanon Civil War, Cambodian Civil War, the Afghan Civil War, and the Gulf War. Back on American soil, he found himself a witness as the towers at Ground Zero came tumbling down. He had just gotten home from Tibet when he got a call saying the World Trade Center was burning. Taking to the roof of his building, he began shooting pictures. At the time he had no idea that a plane had hit the towers. While on the roof he watched as both towers crumbled. In a state of shock and unable to comprehend what he had seen; he ran to Ground Zero with his assistant. His own words were chilling - "there was this very fine white powder everywhere and all this office paper, but there was no recognizable office equipment—no filing cabinets, telephones, computers. It seemed like the whole thing had been pulverized." After leaving the devastating scene, he attempted to get back in the next day by sneaking pass security. Caught and escorted off the scene, he never returned.
The legendary work of Steve McCurry
Known for his evocative color photographs that tell the story of humanity’s struggles, McCurry is recognized worldwide as one of today’s finest image makers.
One of McCurry’s most famous photographs was the Afghan Girl. The picture of the twelve-year-old Afghani girl was taken in 1984. The photograph was a portrait of a young orphan in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan. The disheveled and dirt-stained girl in tattered clothes made jaws drop worldwide as her piercing green eyes stared into the camera. McCurry had followed the sounds of children laughing from a one room school tent. The moment he laid eyes on the girl with the stunning green eyes he knew this was the only picture he wanted to take. The child who had never been photographed before soon became known as “the most recognized photograph” in National Geographic’s history. In 1985 the photograph was the cover photo for the magazine. Used by Amnesty International on their brochures and posters, the identity of the child was unknown for seventeen years until McCurry himself and a team from National Geographic located the woman in 2002. McCurry remarked that despite years of weathering, Sharbat Gula was just as striking as she was in 1984.
In 1992 McCurry won an award from the World Press Photo Competition for his photograph titled Camels Under a Blackened Sky. The powerful image was shot in Kuwait at the end of the first Gulf War. The heart stopping image shows three camels searching for food and water while massive fires ravished the land. No photographer has captured such a heart wrenching image of the ecological disaster started when then Iraq president Saddam Hussein ordered soldiers to set fire to the oil fields. McCurry was overcome by the sight of several hundred oil fields burning while animals searched for food in a crazed panic.
McCurry continued to amass multiple photography awards including Magazine Photographer of the Year through the National Press Photographers Association. He has also won the Olivier Rebbot Award twice. Almost twenty years after Camels Under a Blackened Sky won the World Press Photo, he was recognized with the Leica Hall of Fame Award in 2011. The award pays homage to exceptional photographers. McCurry’s years spent taking pictures of some of the most troubled and dangerous spots in the world earned him this spot in the hall of fame alongside some of the greatest photographers in the world. Most recently, McCurry won the Golden Doves for Peace journalistic prize that is awarded by the Italian Research Institute Archivio Disarmo in 2018.
The importance of Steve McCurry’s Photography
The photographic images taken by Steve McCurry over his decades long career have become a significant part of history and the world of photography. His work across the globe has gifted people from all walks of life with a lens into unfamiliar cultures. His work stretches across continents, exploring conflict, tradition, and culture. Gracing the covers of major magazines worldwide, his award-winning images have documented history as it happened. Exhibited in countries around the world and at home, he continues to travel always on the lookout for pictures that enlighten people. Steve McCurry’s work has and will continue to inspire photographers in an art form that sees the world like no other.