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. Today I visited his exhibition in Zürich and I was fascinated by his work.
As the flyer of the exhibition says: “In pictures of incredible intensity and beauty Steve McCurry records major changes in our world. The American achieved fame in 1979 when, disguised as one of the mujahideen, he smuggled the first pictures out of occupied Afghanistan. Several years later, in a refugee camp in Pakistan he took his most famous photograph, the picture of the green-eyed Afghan girl that has since become an icon. McCurry’s fondness for Asia has remained unaltered since these first visits. For him the contrast to western culture lies in public space and the way day-to-day and religious life are melded. His cosmos of powerful and colorful images tells us about vanishing cultures and reports on the effects of globalization. Using previously unpublished works, films and interviews the exhibition presents one of today’s most influential reporter photographers.”
Here are some pictures of the exhibition and don’t forget to check out his image galleries.
The green-eyed Afghan girl.
Images of Ahmad Shah Massoud on rugs, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002, Magnum Photos, NYC62767, MCS2002002 K226With crisp uniform and clean-shaven chin, an officer represents Afghanistan’s new army. The military is led by loyalists of the Northern Alliance, which helped defeat the Taliban a year ago. Its long-time head, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was assassinated on September 9, 2001. Hailed as a hero in Kabul, his image is everywhere, even on rugs. This cult status angers some Afghans, who charge Massoud’s followers with dominating – and corrupting – the new government. A New Day in KabulNational Geographic, December 2002
Phaidon, In the Shadow of Mountains, Iconic Images, final book_iconic
Blue Mosque, Mazar i Sharif, Afghanistan, 1991, 1992″Doves in front of Mazar-e Sharif’s famous ‘Blue Mosque,’ the Tomb of Hazrat Ali. Revered by Muslims as the tomb of the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, this 15th-century mosque near the border of Uzbekistan is named for the cobalt blue and turquoise colors of its minarets and domes. Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, 1991.”- George Eastman House”The white doves are a tourist attraction for Afghans. They are fed and cared for by travelers – by traders and farmers who come to market, and by residents of the northern region who come to the city to pray at the large mosque. In a country not given to leisure travel, the doves provide a symbol of peace.” – Phaidon 55NYC5926, MCS1994002 K046
Bakery run by Afghan widows in Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002
Holi festival, Rajasthan, India, 1996
The Holi festival is also known as the festival of colours and this image by McCurry shows why. With powder bombs exploding around him, this man is in a state of reverie as he is carried aloft through the crowd. In form and content it is an image of intense fervour and excitement.
Magnum Photos, NYC94205, MCS1996002K308
Phaidon, Iconic Images, final print_milan, iconic photographs
A grandson takes orders to fetch water, Jodhpur, India, 1996
A boy with his Grandfather, Jodhpur, India, 1996
In content alone, McCurry’s images offer a fascinating vision of the world. Yet their power would be less without his deep understanding of colour and form. This charming scene of a grandfather telling his grandson to collect some water is made all the more interesting through the mirroring of the camels’ legs and the positioning of the two boys.
Phaidon, South Southeast, Iconic Images, final print_milan, final book_iconic, iconic photographs
National Geographic, March 1997, India: Fifty Years of Independence
Magnum Photos, NYC5907, MCS1996002 K205
INDIA-10214, Bombay, India
Mother and Child at Car Window, Bombay/Mumbai, India, 1993
A mother and child beg for alms through a taxi window during the monsoon.
Bombay is the capital of India’s business, movie, music, and fashion worlds. A city of wealth, but everywhere, within a few steps, is the greater India. Poverty, for both its victims and those who only witness it, is inescapable. Refugees from India’s rural poverty and people seeking opportunities for a better life arrive each day in the thousands to swell a city which already seems to burst at the seams. Over time, you learn of the complex economics of Bombay’s beggars. Street corners can be “inherited” or subject to leasing arrangements; a spot on one intersection busy with taxis is prime real estate. Begging is a way of life. An overwhelming number of the city’s inhabitants live on the streets in intricate hierarchies-those that have shelter are better off than those on open ground. They in turn have risen above those who live on the streets themselves.
(2000) South SouthEast. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 43.
National Geographic, March 1995, Bombay: India’s Capital of Hope
Magnum Photos, NYC5919, MCS1996002 K097 ..Phaidon, 55, South Southeast, Iconic Images, final book_iconic, final print_milan
Jam-packed and alive with commerce, India’s richest country allures new corners by the hundreds each day. Arriving with little more than dreams, some hit it big. Others remain on the outside looking in: half of Bombay’s 13 million people live on the streets or in ramshackle huts, and thousands-like this woman and child-survive only by begging.
National Geographic: John McCarry (March 1995) Bombay: India’s Capital of Hope, National Geographic. (vol.187 (3)) pp.42-67
*See caption in book.
Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, 1999
Three men, Jodhpur, India, 1996
“It is a hot afternoon in the Old Quarter, the Brahman section of Jodhpur. Three city workmen wait for their afternoon tea, delivered each day by a street vendor. McCurry discovers these wonderful juxtapositions of colour, shapes and planes during his ‘wanderings’, long walks during which he focuses attention on the here and now, being fully open to what each moment brings. Here, the red jumps out of the blue as if in an abstract painting, yet remains centered within the lives of these three men, patiently awaiting their tea.” – Phaidon 55
Magnum Photos, NYC5911, MCS1996002 K145
Phaidon, 55, South Southeast, Iconic Photographs, IP page 13, final book_iconic, final print_milan
On the edge of the Thar Desert is Jodhpur, once the capital of a princely state. Its medieval quarter, surrounded by a ten-kilometer wall, is a maze of alleyways, often only wide enough for a man or a cow to pass. There are no cars or motorcycles, only vendors hawking their wares on foot. The old city is blue. Local guides say that the blue wash of the houses originally indicated the homes of the upper-caste Brahmins, custodians of holy places and the written word. Others contradict this, saying buildings used to be painted white, before the discovery that copper sulfate added to the white-lime-wash- turning it blue- deterred nesting termites. It caught on. Varieties of blue, from royal blue to aquamarine, form the backdrop for a theatre of colour played out its streets, defying the parched orange of the surrounding desert. McCurry, Steve. (2000). South SouthEast. London: Phaidon Press Limited., 139
At the heart of the old city of Jodhpur is the medieval quarter. The area is made up of a network of passageways, where the walls are all painted blue. There McCurry happened upon these three workers taking a break from their labours.
Boy in mid-flight, Jodhpur, India, 2007
At the foot of the vast Mehrangarh Fort, one can find the Blue City, a small tightly knit maze of houses located towards the north of Jodhpur. In one of the narrow alleyways a boy flees McCurry’s camera. Balancing three intersecting planes of colour – one of which is covered in stark red handprints – the image pulsates with energy as a young boy dashes through the narrow alleyways.
At the foot of the vast Mehrangarh Fort, one can find the Blue City, a small tightly knit maze of houses located towards the north of Jodhpur. Balancing three intersecting planes of colour – one of which is covered in stark red handprints – the image pulsates with energy as a young boy dashes through the narrow alleyways.
Phaidon, The Unguarded Moment, Iconic Photographs, IP page 6, final print_poster