Steve McCurry | The Iconic Photographs

8th January 2013
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Laura Burnside

Steve McCurry cut Steve McCurry | The Iconic PhotographsWe have had the pleasure of interviewing American photographer Steve McCurry, who is universally recognized as one of today’s finest image-makers. His ability to cross boundaries of language and culture to capture fleeting moments of human experience is unique.

He has recently published a monograph, The Iconic Photographs, which brings together the most memorable and beautiful of his images taken over the last 30 years, and talks to us about his career and his views on photography.

How did you become interested in photojournalism?

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Procession of Nuns, Rangoon, Burma, 1994. © Steve McCurry

Before college I traveled in South America. This was probably the first period that I started taking photographs regularly. At the time I didn’t think of it as preparing for a career. I remember one image I took of a man sleeping in the street, and when I saw it I thought “there’s something there, this is something worth pursuing”. When I was in college I studied cinematography and film history.  I took some courses in fine art photography. I was also studying photographers like Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Andre Kertcsz. I was always drawn to street photography. After college I worked for two years, and then left for India to freelance.

You have won some of the world’s most prestigious awards and your photograph of the Afghan Girl is the most recognizable one in the history of the National Geographic magazine. What constitutes in your mind a good photograph? What would you say makes your photographs so successful?

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Dust storm, Rajasthan, India, 1983. © Steve McCurry

I think the definition of a great picture is one that stays with you, one you can’t forget. An unforgettable picture was the image taken by the AP photographer, Nick Ut, of the young girl running down the street as she was being burned by napalm.  It would be impossible to forget that image.

How has your work evolved in the past 30 years? And how has the switch from film to digital impacted it?

I think in time you understand your craft better and you become more perceptive; you understand light and elements that make pictures better. The transition to digital hasn’t really changed the way I see or the way I photograph. It’s changed my process in that I am now able to work in much lower light and more difficult situations than I could in the past, but the same truths apply to any image regardless of the technique that went into crafting it.

You have traveled with your camera across all continents, but seem to be most attracted to the East. Why is that?

I find Asia probably the most fascinating part of this planet. It’s impossible to find a place that has more diversity and more diverse cultures. There is no other place on the planet, perhaps with the exception of the pyramids in Egypt or ancient Greece, where you have such an ancient civilization where temples and architecture and language and customs and art still remain and are as vital today as they would have been 500 or 1000 or 2000 years ago.

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"Steve McCurry: The Iconic Images", £39.95 (hardback), available from Phaidon.com

About the Book:

Seen at the large scale of this new book, McCurry’s images are particularly powerful: reproduced at slightly larger than life size, his portraits have an extraordinary immediacy and impact, while even the smallest details of his spectacular landscapes are clearly visible on the page.
Portraits of children, pilgrims and farmers are presented alongside views of ancient temples, busy city streets, dramatic mountain landscapes and quiet scenes of daily life – people are seen fishing, playing, working and praying.
The images are presented in an uninterrupted sequence for maximum impact, and all the photographs are shown at either full-page size or as double-page spreads.