In the world of photography, it’s not enough to be talented and have good luck to find yourself in the right place at the right time. You also need a fundamental quality: sensitivity.
The renowned American photographer, Steve McCurry, not only possesses the above attributes but also embodies them to the extent that he is considered one of the great masters of contemporary photography, and is acknowledged as such in the numerous and highly important awards he has won in the industry.
His photographs are recognizable to the point that they could almost be regarded as a style in themselves, distinctive for their use of color and their strong empathy with their subjects: “if you wait, people will forget your camera, and the soul will drift up into view”. The Afghan girl – one of the last century’s most celebrated portraits– is the best example of this.
Born in Philadelphia in 1950, McCurry studied cinematography at Pennsylvania State University and began working for a local newspaper. A few years later, he undertook a journey as freelance photographer in India. It was a crucial choice for his subsequent career.
One day he met a group of Afghan refugees on the border with Pakistan who told him of the terrible events occurring in their country (it was just before the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979). Steve decided to follow them in order to document what subsequently turned into a violent and bloody civil war lasting ten years.
Wearing traditional Afghan clothes but lacking the necessary documents, and unconcerned of the dangers present, Steve crossed the border into Afghanistan. He recorded the conflict from a vantage point in the front line alongside the Mujahideen and then, with rolls of film sewn into his clothes, left the country. For the first time, the world learnt of the sufferings of the people and of the refugees from the war in Afghanistan. His coverage won him the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad, an award dedicated to photographers exhibiting exceptional courage and enterprise.
Since then, his camera has continued to tell stories, through the human element, of conflict, ancient tradition, contemporary cultures and those which have all but disappeared. Fascinating stories originating in all corners of the globe, able to transport those who look at the photographs into a far-off yet profound world, one which – leaving aside the tragic nature of some of the images – is magical indeed.
New York, October 10 2017