A Candid Portrait: Photographer Steve McCurry in Focus
A natural-born storyteller, Steve McCurry took his first photograph at the age of 11. Now, when his camera shutter clicks, the world pays attention.
Whether imbibing the spirit of the Asaro people in Papua New Guinea, trekking through Wadi-Rum’s desert in the company of Jordanian camel herders, or surveying the Mongolian steppe with berkutchi and their eagles, the iconic photographer has an unmistakable talent for conveying human emotion and capturing feelings, freezing them in time with a uniquely candid beauty.
Shooting with his favored Leica SL camera, McCurry has cast his lens on 34 of the world’s most captivating destinations with Silversea, across six of the seven continents. He cites Hong Kong as his favorite of all.
In this exclusive interview with Discover, Steve McCurry shares insight on his new book, In Search of Elsewhere, as well as some personal thoughts on his illustrious career.
In Search of Elsewhere presents 102 arresting visuals from the photographer’s travels into the world—18 of which were captured in the company of Silversea: India, Vietnam, Mexico, Madagascar, Benin, Antarctica, and more.
Previously unseen, these era-defining images take us across the globe, revealing the diversity of human life. And with a foreword from another of Silversea’s celebrated collaborators, Pico Iyer, we, as readers, can’t help but revel in the artistic confluence of two creative giants.
What are the key themes of your new book? And, from a personal point of view, why are these themes significant within your photography?
This book documents my travels over the past 40 years, but more importantly, it records the ways in which people live out their everyday lives, no matter the joys and difficulties. The overarching theme of this collection is that no matter how divided our world is, there are more things that bind us together as humans than divide us. There is no denying that the world has changed, but people are still basically the same, even in times of turmoil. So, my search for elsewhere revealed that no matter where I have gone, I have experienced humanity, kindness, hospitality, and generosity that has made all of the travel worthwhile.
How have your travels with Silversea enabled you to explore and capture these themes in such a profound, beautiful way?
My collaboration with Silversea has been one of the most fruitful of my career. I’ve been able to photograph such remote, far-flung communities. The respect that they have shown me and my work and the freedom to take pictures in my own way has been a gift.
What fascinated you about destinations such as ‘India, Myanmar and Cuba […] Kashmir and the white-washed temples of the Himalayas’?
It is difficult to explain how any of us develop our individual styles, aesthetics, and preferences. I have always been fascinated by all the places I have photographed. The world is an endlessly intriguing place, and although I have seen a lot of it, I am still driven to see more.
How did your love affair with photography begin?
I studied filmmaking in college and while on that program I took a photography class. I just fell in love with the camera, the possibilities of wandering around and taking pictures and observations of life. I decided this would be a great vehicle to travel, explore and see the world that we live in.
What is one lesson that you’ve learned from your career?
I’ve learned that there’s a commonality among people, whatever their country or nationality — and people wherever they are in the world want to be respected. And if you can respect people, it’s a wonderful world, and doors open up and everything’s fine. When people are disrespected, then things get ugly, you can see that in the world’s conflicts.
What is one thing about photography that a lot of people get wrong?
It’s not as romantic as it looks. You don’t need to have a crazy itinerary to get all the best shots; you need to allow yourself time to immerse yourself in the culture and wonder. Sometimes, the more remote places leave the best memories because they challenge you to leave your comfort zone.
What advice would you share with both first-time photographers and serious photo enthusiasts?
I think you need to photograph things that are important to you. You have to find things that you care about, as opposed to taking a series of random photographic assignments. A lot of other advice is pretty obvious, but that’s the most important piece of advice. I did a lot of assignments that were just a case of shoot this and shoot that. I think when you start photographing things that you care about then you’ll look back on your work in 20 years, 40 years, 60 years with satisfaction. It would be a pity to waste one’s life. I think if you’re doing something you genuinely care about then it’s time well spent.
Which one person from your travels would you like to meet again and why?
I had an Ecuadorian guide from one of my trips to the Galapagos who was extremely informative and had a great sense of humor. I would love to work with him again!
If you had to sum it up, what makes your photography unique?
One of the interesting things about photography, one of the pleasures of looking at pictures, is that we can come up with our own interpretation, our own fantasy, about what a picture means. I think ultimately we each have our own interpretation and our own narrative of any work of art. Another person will not see an image the way I do. Just as I will never interpret an image the way another person will. It’s all such a personal experience.
Have you been able to exercise your passion during lockdown?
I have been in a long-term process of scanning all of my work done before the “digital era” with my studio. During this pandemic, we have reviewed thousands of unseen pictures that had been stored in my archive. As I have gone over the work, I have had the opportunity to see work that has never been seen by anyone up until now.
What are your hopes for the future of photography? And, more generally, for the future of our planet and its people?
As humans, we have a responsibility to preserve our natural world for future generations. I believe the future of our planet is at stake. It is my hope that through my work people will see animals as intelligent beings, and nature as a sacred place, both deserving of our respect and awareness.
About Steve McCurry
Steve McCurry has been one of the most iconic voices in contemporary photography for more than 30 years. His work spans conflicts, vanishing cultures, ancient traditions and contemporary culture alike – yet always retains the human element that made his celebrated image of the Afghan Girl such a powerful image.
McCurry has been recognized with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal, the National Press Photographers Award, and four first prize awards from the World Press Photo contest.