Steve McCurry in Search of Elsewhere: Unseen Images
“Steve McCurry’s photographs speak to the human experience around the world with wit, compassion, and perspicacity blended with a brilliant photographic talent and an eye for adventure.”
The annus horribilus 2020 has found us trapped in new cloistered routines as the world is faced with a global pandemic that has forced us to withdraw from many of our intimate human connections. Travel has always been a means for us to escape and re-order our habits and perspectives, but that avenue has been essentially closed as a microscopic virus has forced us to isolate and quarantine. Sequestered and solitary, we await a renaissance that will follow the plague.
It is with particular pleasure that a rich and spectacular book of the photographs of Steve McCurry has appeared in this vacuum to rekindle the love of travel and the joy of experiencing many cultures. McCurry is one of the most respected of the National Geographic constellation of excellent photographic documentarians of our complex and confusing planet. In Search of Elsewhere gathers almost 40 years of images that Steve McCurry has recorded around the world in a tireless quest for startling pictures that capture the essence of our common humanity.
Over 100 photographs are compiled in a large coffee-table format. All of the photographs are of people, each of whom represents an element of the complexity of our mutual habitation of our planet. Some of the photographs are portraits, for which McCurry is particularly famed, and many are landscapes and cityscapes which all include indigenous peoples. All 100 are color photographs that are rich and crystal clear.
Every photograph is of extraordinary beauty and import. McCurry captures the mundane and the exotic with equal skill.
Particularly memorable is a McCurry photograph captured in 2019 of a desert landscape with nomadic Bedouins around a campfire in Wadi Rum, Jordan. These are our planetary peers, but their circumstances and their environment are timeless reminders of the richness of our mutual experience. They are simultaneously our ancestors and our contemporaries. The Bedouin image jumps off the page as a prime example of McCurry’s lack of presence and pretense. It is a photographic tour de force.
In Search of Elsewhere is punctuated by quotes from McCurry and many others, including C. S. Lewis, Vincent van Gogh, and Frank McCourt. There is also a brief, yet incisive, introduction by the esteemed travel writer, Pico Iyer, which beautifully sets the tone and the context for the photographs which follow.
The production quality is excellent. However, the designers and editors made one decision that is perplexing and with which many readers will find fault. Rather than caption the photographs, six pages of thumbnails are included as an epilogue to identify the dates and locations and to also offer a paragraph of explanatory text. But the thumbnails do not relate to the page numbers of the book. Rather they are merely numbered. This arrangement makes it extremely difficult to keep turning back to the thumbnails for any critical information regarding the pictures.
Often editors and designers don’t want photographs to be disturbed by text and it is understandable that they may have designed this photobook bearing that in mind. But, in the case of In Search of Elsewhere, which is essentially a book of travel photography, the locations and dates would have been really useful directly accompanying the photographs. The explanatory text is fine being relegated to the back of the book with the thumbnails.
Readers will find themselves returning to the oddly numbered thumbnails over and over again in a tedious process that is defeating to the flow of the extraordinary photography contained in these pages. The curious choice to neglect to refer to the thumbnails by page number makes this exercise particularly tiresome.
Regardless of this flaw, if one is trapped in their bubble, yearning for a way to remember how vast and how wide our human experience is, then this is a book for our time. Steve McCurry’s photographs speak to the human experience around the world with wit, compassion, and perspicacity blended with a brilliant photographic talent and an eye for adventure. But above all, the photographs of In Search of Elsewhere are beautiful, mesmerizing, poignant, and haunting.