Steve McCurry

I was aware of the photograph of the Afghan Girl long before I knew about Steve McCurry, the man. When our university opened a campus in Vancouver in 2007 I was told that Steve McCurry would be exhibiting some of his work for the opening. I remember asking my colleague who Steve McCurry was and getting the reply “you know – the photo of the Afghan Girl with the stunning green eyes” and in turn replying “oh yes, now I remember.”

I was fortunate to meet Steve prior to the opening and he immediately impressed me. He is an incredibly humble man, quiet and very respectful, treating everyone he met as if they were the most important person to him right then and there. He carries this attitude through to his photography as well when photographing people. It is one of his main concerns – to treat his subjects with the respect they deserve. When he is out shooting, one of his maxims is to wait and watch. People will soon acclimatize to you and forget about you.

Steve McCurry was recently awarded the Centenary Medal for Lifetime Achievement at the 2014 Royal Photographic Society Awards for his significant contribution to photography. Among his other achievements are the Robert Capa Gold Medal, National Press Photographers Award, and four first prize awards from the World Press Photo contest and that is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

He enjoys photographing people, culture and celebrations. Even though he works on assignmenst and his images need to flow in a cohesive manner, he believes photographs should be able to stand alone and each tell its own story and he strives for this in his work. He does work according to themes, for instance his personal favourite is taking photos of people reading, but this is an ongoing project. He previsualizes his images and will try and elicit something from his subjects that really stands out and he then works off that, be it a gracious smile, stunning eyes, or a character-etched face. He doesn’t plan his projects in great depth, preferring to take things as they come and wander the streets looking for his moments.

McCurry photographs throughout the day, but enjoys the golden hours the most [1]:

I just like to get out and walk around the day from start to finish. But I do think my work often leans to the dark side of lighting. When I’m working on a project, I like to be out and shooting at first light, when there is that rich, warm light. When walking down a street, I will always be on the shady side of the road.

As I have not been able to link directly to the specific photographs on Steve McCurry’s website (his photographs are in a slideshow and therefore do not have separate URL’s), I have pinned them to Pinterest so that they can be viewed separately, but I have provided reference to the name of the photograph as well as the gallery where they can be found in on McCurry’s website.

McCurry tends to photograph bright colours: beautiful blues and reds, accented by yellows and oranges as can be seen in Jodhpur, India (The Need for Speed gallery). He also photographs a lot of chiaroscuro images, mainly with a warm contrast (orange and black tones) e.g Bodh Gaya, India; Cambodia; Brazil (seen in his Silhouettes & Shadows gallery), but there are a few that have a cold contrast (blue and black tones) as in his Myanmar, Burma (Burma gallery) and Preah Kahn, Cambodia (Silhouettes & Shadows gallery) which has a green-black contrast.

In Yemen (Simple Act of Waiting gallery) he makes such great use of the pink accent colours against the sea of black burqa clad women. The little boy’s pink jersey provides the main accent location, but further back in the queue are a few women holding pink papers or cloths. This trail of pink emphasizes the leading lines of the burqa clad women and draws the eye further into the image. His image of a Holi festival, Rajasthan, India (India gallery) is bursting with vibrance. The body of the man covered in green pigment lies diagonally across a sea of red and orange turbaned men, their white clothes strewn with red pigment. The turbans provide a lot of circular movement in the image, thereby keeping the eye transfixed to the scene that is playing out.

McCurry’s use of colour in his photographs lend emotion to his images. Sadness, joy, hardship and sorrow are all emphasized by his use of colour. I think he is a true master in the use of colour, but at the same time I think he is an incredibly difficult photographer to emulate as the mould was probably broken when he developed his personal voice and style. His work is truly inspirational and he remains one of my favourite photographers. I can only hope to begin to scratch the surface of his understanding of colour, light and composition.

Reference List

[1] Wagenstein, Oded (2013). Interview with Steve McCurry Masters of Photography. One on one with the Masters of Photography. Oded Wagenstein Photography. Available from: [Accessed on 3 November, 2014]

Steve McCurry. Available from [Accessed on 4 Novmeber, 2014]


Alan from (2011). An interview with Steve McCurry. Available from: [Accessed on 4 November, 2014]

Chan, Andrew. Fotoflock Interview of the month: Steve McCurry. Available from: [Accessed on 3 November, 2014]


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