Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures

Image of Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures
Author(s): 
Release Date: 
November 20, 2018
Publisher/Imprint: 
Laurence King Publishing
Pages: 
392
Reviewed by: 

Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures is an homage by his sister to an extraordinary photographer who broadens our view of humanity and the world. It is a beautifully printed priceless gem of a book for those who wish to expand their view of the world via the humanistic perspective of an artist.”

Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures by Bonnie McCurry is destined to be an enduring biography and an insightful portrayal of a remarkable photographer. Its astounding trove of 380 images reflects much of McCurry’s photographic work that spans 40 years.

Many people know Steve McCurry’s name from his portrait of Afghan Girl that was shot in 1984 and made him an internationally recognized photographer. What many do not know is that McCurry was already a well-known person to Life and Time magazines.

Inspired by the work of Cartier-Bresson, Marc Riboud, and Margaret Bourke White, McCurry photographed in black and white and traveled widely in the 1970s as a student through Europe, Africa, and Central America. By 1974 Steve McCurry had graduated cum laude from Penn State University’s film and cinematography department. To save money and gain photographic experience he took a job with a small newspaper called Today’s Post, in Pennsylvania. He had no doubts regarding his career as an impassioned photographer.

In 1978, while traveling through northern Pakistan he met two Afghans who told him of fighting along the border. On the basis of the firsthand information McCurry crossed the Pakistan border into Afghanistan following two guides, neither of whom spoke English.

As Bonnie tells it, “his gear was breathtakingly inadequate; it consisted of a plastic cup, a Swiss Army knife, two camera bodies, four lenses, a bag of film, a stash of Airline peanuts, and a soggy copy of Herman Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, that a trekker had left in a $2-a-night hotel.”

However, the photographs from his months long stay in Afghanistan yielded impressive results, especially after the Russians invaded Afghanistan and his mujahideen companions began insurgent operations against the Russian army. McCurry eventually smuggled the photos out of Afghanistan by sewing the canisters of film into his clothing, and the photos made international news by providing the West with a firsthand look into the war.

In the following decades McCurry’s images of life in Iraq, China, India, Tibet, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia have illuminated readers and graced the covers of National Geographic, Time, and other magazines.

Interestingly, although many would consider Steve McCurry a photojournalist, he said in a Time magazine interview, “I’ve always let my pictures do the talking, but now I understand that people want me to describe the category into which I would put myself, and so I would say that today I am a visual storyteller.” This is borne out not only in this book, but also in his India book (reviewed at NYJB in December 2015).

His images go beyond merely documenting situations, they are breathtaking because they inform via rich color, a graphic presence, scale, and depth of character. Whether you are seeing a woman in a sari retrieving water from a multilevel staircased brick well, or an old man up to his neck in flood waters carrying a sewing machine aloft to keep it dry, or the penetrating gaze of a young Afghan Girl, McCurry always illuminates via a depth of character that gives us a window into the ethos of a society and a person’s life even when they live on the other side of the world.

This book is a large 10 x 13 inches, filled with 380 images that span a 40-year career, and renders a stunning 19 by 13 two-page spread for many photographs. The paper is a premium medium weight semi-matte with an excellent dynamic range of tone and gorgeous color. It is exquisitely bound.

Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures is an homage by his sister to an extraordinary photographer who broadens our view of humanity and the world. It is a beautifully printed priceless gem of a book for those who wish to expand their view of the world via the humanistic perspective of an artist.