For many of us, it is easy to remember the first time we saw the iconic portrait of an Afghan girl captured by the American photographer and storyteller, Steve McCurry. I was young, yet I can remember how, as I stared into the portrait, I felt a rush of different emotions. I couldn’t turn away; who was this girl? What was her story and who had been there to capture so much in one photograph? I felt curious, but mostly, I was in awe that one single image could have such an impact on me. I soon learned I was not alone; the acclaimed portrait had captivated the entire world and quickly became one of the most famous photographs ever taken.
For almost 30 years, Steve McCurry has captured mesmerizing images from over six continents, making him one of the most iconic voices in contemporary photography. His work has been featured in countless magazines, books, worldwide exhibitions and has earned many prestigious awards, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal, National Press Photographers Award, four first prize awards from the World Press Photo Contest, among many others.
McCurry was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He studied film at Pennsylvania State University before working on a local newspaper. His journey into capturing some of the most iconic photographs started with his first trip to India. He spent several months traveling, meeting Afghan refugees and witnessing the Russian invasion, capturing the conflict in Afghanistan and bringing it to the Western world with a different perspective: powerful images the captured the human side of war.
Only a few months ago, Patricia Conde, a Mexican gallerist, and Lorena Carrillo, a photographer from Monterrey, brought Steve McCurry to Monterrey, Mexico, and showcased his latest work: Afghanistan (2017) in Patricia Conde Galería. We had the honor to have a talk with Steve and here are some of the insights he shared with us:
What made you want to become a photographer?
I always wanted to travel and photography allowed me to do that. Travel and photography have always been intertwined. There’s a contemplative quality to photography, which I find to be a sort of peaceful place. I can’t think of a better use of my time than to travel the world. Photography is a fantastic medium to experience life.
How did your career start?
I left home and my comfort zone. You do not necessary need to travel far away, but you need to explore and observe the world you live in. You need to take pictures every day; you will come across amazing situations, and find the things that mean the most to you. You will refine your eyes and develop techniques over the years, if you fully commit to the medium.
You need to evolve, to reinvent yourself, and grow. You need to keep your heart and mind open.
How do you know when you’re witnessing a moment that’s worth being photographed?
You’re never sure of the moment because you’re always looking and anticipating. You need to be intuitive and reflexive, and develop an insatiable curiosity. It’s instinctive, you have to wait, and it is part of the process.
What goes through your mind when you’re capturing such a full range of emotions in photographs?
The most important thing is to respect your subjects and the places they live in, no matter the language, or culture. You need to create a relationship with them. With such respect comes trust. This is how you will add emotions to your pictures. You need to wait for the right moment when people reveal themselves.
Looking at people’s eyes is necessary, when a person guard’s is down, their eyes will tell you everything.
At what point does a photograph become a piece of art?
What is important to my work is the individual picture. I photograph stories, but what matters most is that each picture stands on its own, with its own place and feeling, and gives meaning to the subject.
As a Travel Photographer, have you ever been in a situation where you fear for your safety?
I’ve been to a lot of places where I feared for my life. One of the most dangerous moments I can remember was in Afghanistan, when I was covering the war against the USSR, bombings were constant.
Sometimes it’s better to take a calculated risk than to withdraw and be timid and not try and get as much out of life as you possibly can.
How about the most gratifying situation?
I hope that my pictures draw people’s attention to the humanity of life, to highlight its similarities, looking at the world through compassionate eyes, and to live and accept each other.
Photography is also a powerful tool to point out problems and then to see if we can educate people to make the world a better place.
What or who inspires you?
I’ve been inspired by Henry Cartier Bresson, his work is timeless. His pictures depict a unique way of looking into someone’s personality.
I’ve also been inspired by Andre Kertesz, Dorothea Lange or Walker Evans for their sense of curiosity and observation. People living their everyday lives inspire me too. You have so much to say, document, and report on a human being.
Is there a project that want to accomplish at some point in your life?
I would like to publish a book on Buddhism, a topic that means a lot to me, and have deeply influenced my way of looking through a camera.
You’ve recently been to Monterrey for your Afghanistan exhibition in Patricia Conde Galería. How was the experience?
Mexico is a wonderful country where I had the privilege to meet great people. I’m grateful to Patricia Conde, who I’ve been collaborating with for several years, to put together a show on Afghanistan, a place that is special to me. It is always interesting to hear how people react to your work. She has a great eye, and she has passion for art.
Monterrey is a vibrant city and the people are extremely generous. I’ve experienced amazing hospitality.
Mexico is definitely a place I will come back to, the light, the places, the culture and the way Mexican people are living their lives every day, is a source of inspiration. There are quite unique stories to share.
What do you want your legacy in life to be?
I think we as photographers can bring some kind of positive changes to the world that we live in and help people understand problems.
For myself, if I can bring people a little closer together, that would be all I can wish for.
Autor: Eugenia Ganem / IOS OFFICES