He’s a photographer, one of the finest the world has seen. His works, spanning over three decades, have won him several international awards. Each moment he captured on his lens had a powerful story to tell- a story of human triumph or a tragedy. He however rose to international fame when he took what would become the most recognized photograph in the world- that of the “Afghan Girl.”
Steve McCurry, born April 23, 1950, began his stint at photography with a newspaper in Pennsylvania. After working there for 2 years, Steve left for India to freelance. It was here his photography blossomed.
It was in India that McCurry learned to watch and wait on life. “If you wait,” he realized, “people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.” (Biography, National Geographic)
His photograph of Vrindavan Widow, a frail old woman moving with a stick in ancient streets (Slide 7 in presentation below), beautifully captured the spirit of resilience. His picture of Tailor in Monsoon shows a man smilingly wading through monsoon floodwaters with his machine in hand- the only thing he could salvage in monsoon fury (slide 5). Each photograph is better than the other and a reflection of what it’s to be human.
Another beautiful collection of work comes from Steve’s visit to the ancient temples of Angkor in Cambodia, the largest religious monument in the world. “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,” says McCurry on his website about these temples. Watch the monks of Angkor steeped in prayers and preparations in the temple. It’s also a wonder to behold the majestic sculptures and artworks- crumbling yet proudly standing there through centuries.
Steve McCurry travelled far and wide. His travels spanned across six continents and countless countries. Wherever Steve went, he tried to capture the essence of the city and the beauty of its people. So when he landed in the beautiful, vibrant country of Italy, Steve got down to just that. In the hands of Steve and in the lens of his camera, the city comes alive in all its colors- romance as well as devotion.
But what really launched his career and brought him into limelight was the “Afghan Girl.” The photography appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. Her sea green eyes, haunted and haunting at the same time, became the most talked about photograph in the world. Who was she? It took 17 years for the world, including Steve McCurry, to know her real name “Sharbat Gula.”
The story of the Afghan Girl is a beautiful one. In the early days of his career, Steve sneaked into Pakistan to document Afghanistan’s refugees who had crossed into the neighbouring country in thousands to save themselves from the war at home. It was there in one tent Steve glanced at the girl with dazzling green eyes. The girl agreed to pose for pictures. Little did Steve know then that this would be featured on the cover of National Geographic and become famous world over. After 17 years, Steve and team from the magazine went to Pakistan to find the identity of the girl. They came to know in Pakistan refugee camp that she had moved back to Afghanistan in Tora Bora. The team luckily found her. She had grown old but the fierce look in her eyes remained the same, as haunted as ever.
Steve has been honored with several awards, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad- an award dedicated to photographers exhibiting exceptional courage and enterprise. About his photography, Steve has said, “What is important to my work is the individual picture. I photograph stories on assignment, and of course they have to be put together coherently. But what matters most is that each picture stands on its own, with its own place and feeling.”
The human element strikes in all his photographs. See for yourself his amazing knack in the presentation on stolen childhood below: