Steve McCurry (born February 24, 1950) is an American photographer who has worked in photojournalism and editorial. He is best known for his 1984 photograph "Afghan Girl", which originally appeared in National Geographic magazine. McCurry is a member of Magnum Photos.
McCurry is the recipient of numerous awards, including Magazine Photographer of the Year, awarded by the National Press Photographers Association; the Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal; and two first-place prizes in the World Press Photo contest (1985 and 1992).
Life and work
McCurry attended Penn State University. He originally planned to study cinematography and filmmaking, but instead gained a degree in theater arts and graduated in 1974. He became interested in photography when he started taking pictures for the Penn State newspaper The Daily Collegian.
After working at Today's Post in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania for two years, he left for India to freelance.
McCurry's career was launched when, disguised in Afghani garb, he crossed the Pakistan border into rebel-controlled areas of Afghanistan just before the Soviet invasion. He left with rolls of film sewn into his clothes. These images were subsequently published by The New York Times, TIME and Paris Match and won him the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad.
McCurry continued to cover armed conflicts, including the Iran-Iraq War, Lebanon Civil War, the Cambodian Civil War, the Islamic insurgency in the Philippines, the Gulf War and the Afghan Civil War. His work has been featured in magazines and he is a frequent contributor to National Geographic. He has been a member of Magnum Photos since 1986.
McCurry focused on the human consequences of war, intending to not only show what war impresses on the landscape, but rather, on the human face. “Most of my images are grounded in people. I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face. I try to convey what it is like to be that person, a person caught in a broader landscape, that you could call the human condition.”
In 2001 Steve McCurry exhibited in an international art exhibition organized by the agency Leo Burnett with the Italian painter Umberto Pettinicchio, in Lausanne in Switzerland.
McCurry is portrayed in a TV documentary The Face of the Human Condition (2003) by Denis Delestrac.
McCurry switched from shooting color slide film to digital capture in 2005 for the convenience of editing in the field and transmitting images to photo editors. He admitted to no nostalgia about working in film in an interview with The Guardian. "Perhaps old habits are hard to break, but my experience is that the majority of my colleagues, regardless of age, have switched over... The quality has never been better. You can work in extremely low light situations, for example."
However, in June 2010, he was working on a project (a series of portraits) that involved the use of one of the last remaining rolls of Kodachrome transparency film which had been discontinued by Kodak. The roll was processed in July 2010 by Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas and was to be housed at the George Eastman House. Most of the photos, excluding a few near-duplicates, have been published on the Internet by Vanity Fair. "I shot it for 30 years and I have several hundred thousand pictures on Kodachrome in my archive. I'm trying to shoot 36 pictures that act as some kind of wrap up – to mark the passing of Kodachrome. It was a wonderful film."
In May 2013 McCurry was Pirelli's choice of photographer to shoot the pictures for the 2013 Pirelli Calendar in Rio de Janeiro.
McCurry took his most recognized portrait, "Afghan Girl", in December 1984 of an approximately 12-year-old Pashtun orphan in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan. The image itself was named as "the most recognized photograph" in the history of the National Geographic magazine, and her face became famous as the cover photograph on the June 1985 issue. The photo has also been widely used on Amnesty International brochures, posters, and calendars. The identity of the "Afghan Girl" remained unknown for over 17 years until McCurry and a National Geographic team located the woman, Sharbat Gula, in 2002. McCurry said, “Her skin is weathered; there are wrinkles now, but she is as striking as she was all those years ago.”
Controversy about photo manipulation
In 2016 McCurry was accused of extensively manipulating his images with Photoshop and by other means, removing individuals and other elements.
In a May 2016 interview with PetaPixel, McCurry did not specifically deny making major changes, indicating that he now defines his work as "visual storytelling" and as "art". However, he subsequently added that others print and ship his images while he is travelling, implying that they were responsible for the significant manipulation. "That is what happened in this case. It goes without saying that what happened with this image was a mistake for which I have to take responsibility," he concluded.
When discussing the issue with a writer for Time's Lightbox website, McCurry provided similar comments about being a "visual storyteller", though without suggesting that the manipulation was done by others without his knowledge. In fact, the Time writer made the following statement, "Faced with mounting evidence of his own manipulations, McCurry has been forced to address his position in photography." In neither interview did he discuss when the heavy photo manipulation began, or which images have been manipulated. However, considering the controversy it has created, he said that “going forward, I am committed to only using the program in a minimal way, even for my own work taken on personal trips.” McCurry also offered the following conclusion to Time Lightbox, "Reflecting on the situation … even though I felt that I could do what I wanted to my own pictures in an aesthetic and compositional sense, I now understand how confusing it must be for people who think I’m still a photojournalist."
- 1980: Robert Capa Gold Medal for coverage of the war in Afghanistan for Time
- 1984: Magazine Photographer of the Year National Press Photographers Association
- 1985: Oliver Rebbot Award Citation: Monsoons and The New Faces of Baghdad
- 1984: Daily Life Series, First Place, World Press Competition
- 1984: Daily LIfe Category, First Place, World Press Competition
- 1984: Nature Series Category, First place, World Press Competition
- 1984: Nature Category, First Place, World Press Competition
- 1986: Oliver Rebbot Memorial Award: Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad for work done in the Philippines, Overseas Press Club
- 1987: Medal of Honor for coverage of the 1986 Philippine Revolution, Philippines
- 1992: Children's Award: Camels under a Blackened Sky, World Press Photo Competition
- 1990: Award of Excellence, Spanish Gypsy, White House News Photographers Association
- 1992: First Place, General News Stories: Kuwait after the Storm, World Press Photo Competition
- 1992: First Place, Nature and Environment: Oil-Stricken Bird, Kuwait, World Press Photo Competition
- 1992: First Place, Gulf War News Story: Kuwait: After the Storm, Picture of the Year Competition
- 1992: First Place, Magazine Science Award: Camels under a Blackened Sky, Picture of the Year Competition
- 1992: Magazine Feature Picture Award of Excellence: Fiery Aliens, Picture of the Year Competition
- 1992: Oliver Rebbot Memorial Award: Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad on Gulf War Coverage, Overseas Press Club
- 1993: Award of Excellence for Rubble of War, National Press Photographers Association
- 1994: Arts and Architecture Distinguished Alumni Award, Pennsylvania State University
- 1996: Magazine Feature Picture Story Award: Burma: The Richest of the Poor Countries, Picture of the Year Competition
- 2000: Magazine Feature Picture Award of Excellence: Women in Field, Yemen, Pictures of the Year International, Picture of the Year Competition
- 1999: Lifetime Fellow Award, Pennsylvania State University, PA
- 1998: Our World Photo Winner, "Red Boy", Life Magazine: 'The Eisenstaedt Awards'
- 1998: Our World Essay Finalist, India, Life Magazine: 'The Eisenstaedt Awards'
- 1998: Award of Excellence, Portraits: Red Boy Picture of the Year Competition
- 1998: Southern Asian Journalistic Award: Outstanding Special Project: National Geographic Story, India: 50 Years of Independence
- 1998: Southern Asian Journalistic Award: Outstanding Photograph: Red Boy
- 1997: Magazine Feature Picture Award of Excellence: Fishermen, Picture of the Year Competition
- 1996: Magazine Feature Picture Story Award: 'Beggar, Picture of the Year Competition
- 2000: Book of the Year: "South SouthEast", Pictures of the Year International, Picture of the Year Competition
- 2003: Co-recipient of the New York Film Festival Gold for documentary, Afghan Girl: Found, New York Film Festival
- 2002: Distinguished Visiting Fellow, College of Creative Studies, University of California
- 2002: Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, Fairleigh Dickinson University, NJ
- 2002: Photographer of the Year, PMDA Professional Photographer Award, PMDA
- 2002: Photographer of the Year, American Photo Magazine
- 2002: Special Recognition Award, United Nations, International Photographic Council
- 2002: Award of Excellence for "Women of Afghanistan", French Art Directors Association
- 2001: Award of Excellence, Book Series: South SouthEast Photography Annual, Communication Arts
- 2003: Distinguished Alumni Award, Pennsylvania State University
- 2003: The Lucie Award for Photojournalism, International Photography Awards
- 2005: Photojournalism Division-International Understanding through Photography Award, Photographic Society of America
- 2005: Honorary Fellowship, Royal Photographic Society, London
- 2006: Honorary Fellowship, New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP)
- 2006: First Place, Buddha Rising, National Geographic, Dec. 2005 National Press Photographers Association
- 2006: Lowell Thomas GOLD
- 2009: Ambrogino D’Oro, Milan, Italy
- 2011: Prix LiberPress, Girona, Spain
- 2011: Leica Hall of Fame Award, St. Moritz, Switzerland
- 2014: Photography Appreciation Award, Hamdan International Photography Award
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- Padley, Gemma (17 March 2014). "HIPA announces prize winners at grand ceremony". British Journal of Photography. Retrieved 1 August 2014.
- 2015-2016: Steve McCurry: India, Rubin Museum of Art, New York
- 2016: Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Hong Kong
- "Steve McCurry: India". Retrieved 10 January 2016.
- "Images by Famed Photographer Steve McCurry on View at Sundaram Tagore Gallery Pop Up". Sundaram Tagore Gallery. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
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- Portraits. London: Phaidon, 1999; 2012. ISBN 978-0714838397.
- South Southeast. London: Phaidon, 2000. ISBN 978-0714839387.
- Sanctuary: The Temples of Angkor. London: Phaidon, 2002. ISBN 978-0714845593.
- The Path to Buddha: A Tibetan Pilgrimage. London: Phaidon, 2003; 2012. ISBN 978-0714863146.
- Steve McCurry. Phaidon 55 series. London: Phaidon, 2005. ISBN 978-0714862590.
- Looking East. London: Phaidon, 2006. ISBN 978-0714846378.
- In the Shadow of Mountains. London: Phaidon, 2007. ISBN 978-0714846408.
- The Unguarded Moment. London: Phaidon, 2009. ISBN 978-0714846644.
- The Iconic Photographs. London: Phaidon, 2011. ISBN 978-0714865133.
- Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs. London: Phaidon, 2013. ISBN 978-0714864624.
- From These Hands: A Journey Along the Coffee Trail. London: Phaidon, 2015. ISBN 978-0714868981.
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