Biography

Steve McCurry has been one of the most iconic voices in contemporary photography for more than thirty years, with scores of magazine and book covers, over a dozen books, and countless exhibitions around the world to his name.

Born in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; McCurry studied film at Pennsylvania State University, before going on to work for a local newspaper. After several years of freelance work, McCurry made his first of what would become many trips to India. Traveling with little more than a bag of clothes and another of film, he made his way across the subcontinent, exploring the country with his camera.

It was after several months of travel that he found himself crossing the border into Pakistan. There, he met a group of refugees from Afghanistan, who smuggled him across the border into their country, just as the Russian Invasion was closing the country to all western journalists. Emerging in traditional dress, with full beard and weather-worn features after weeks embedded with the Mujahideen, McCurry brought the world the first images of the conflict in Afghanistan, putting a human face to the issue on every masthead.

Since then, McCurry has gone on to create stunning images over six continents and countless countries. His work spans conflicts, vanishing cultures, ancient traditions and contemporary culture alike - yet always retains the human element that made his celebrated image of the Afghan Girl such a powerful image.

McCurry has been recognized with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal, National Press Photographers Award, and an unprecedented four first prize awards from the World Press Photo contest, to name a few.

 

Photograph by: Ahmet Sel

BEHIND THE SCENES

A glimpse at the stories behind Steve McCurry's iconic works.

Tailor in Monsoon

An Indian tailor was caught in the monsoon floodwaters in Porbandar.  The city had been underwater for a week.  I was a bit reluctant to wade through the water because of the dead animals and other debris floating in the streets.  After trying to photograph from a boat, it became clear that the only way I could cover the flood was to wade in.  I spent days wandering in water up to my waist.

 

One afternoon I spotted this man walking down the middle of the street with the sewing machine on his shoulder.  He was a tailor and the sewing machine represented his livelihood.  Unfortunately, the machine was ruined, but when the picture appeared on the cover of the National Geographic Magazine, the machine's manufacturer sent him a new one.

Vrindavan Widow

I was walking down a street in Vrindavan when I saw her. I was fascinated at how someone in her physical condition could move around the ancient city streets. I followed her and after a few minutes she noticed me. My translator explained that I was interested in her and wondered where she was going. She invited us into her home for tea and told us her story. She told me that she had married and was widowed by age 13. In some places in rural India, being a widow carried a stigma, because it was a sign of bad karma. This woman had survived her entire life by accepting a few coins from people for whom she would recite prayers in a temple. She had a wonderful sense of humor and I was touched by her indomitable spirit. One can look at her image and feel admiration or sympathy, but the magic of the picture is its ambiguity. She symbolizes everyone who faces difficult challenges and has the will to persevere and survive.

The Temples of Angkor

I had first visited the temples of Angkor in 1989. I was immediately overwhelmed by what I saw, it was difficult to comprehend the majesty of the place. Angkor contains simply some of the most spectacular ancient temples on earth.

The interpreter and I were often completely alone as we wandered the site and delved into the crumbling buildings. The place is huge, and so much has been abandoned and become overgrown that it felt that maybe discovering sculptures that were completely unknown. I was particularly drawn to reliefs and statues on which the detail had worn away so much that you could only just recognize a face.

Many structures bore the marks of war, and outlying parts of Angkor had been heavily mined. But the biggest threat to the temples was the looting of the artworks. I found buildings from which statues and carved reliefs had been chiseled loose and taken away, the artifacts destined to be sold abroad, often in neighboring Thailand.

Steve McCurry

Asylum, Kabul

I was photographing the effects of the shelling in Kabul, when, without warning, hundreds of rockets started pouring down on the city from several different directions. I had to find cover immediately, and the first refuge I saw was what appeared to be a series of abandoned buildings. I dashed for cover in what turned out to be a makeshift facility for the mentally ill. Its residents were victims of decades of war. There were soldiers who had lost their minds and civilians traumatized by the indelible images of the horror that they had witnessed. There was no electricity, no running water, no doctors, no nurses. The smoke from the fire of a makeshift kitchen blackened the ceilings and walls. As I was moving to another part of the courtyard, I looked back and saw that a man had picked up heavy stones and was bashing another inmate in the head. I remember seeing a huge stone bouncing off his head. We wrestled him to the ground and hustled the man to a hospital. That experience haunts me to this day.

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