You don’t need to know photos to know this one, you’ve seen it before, those eyes are hard to forget. She is “Afghan Girl”, the portrait that made Magnum Photographer Steve McCurry famous in 1985. The portrait that almost didn’t even make it into the magazine at all, the one which the editor overlooked but the photographer vetoed. McCurry’s career was launched when he crossed from Pakistan into rebel-controlled Afghanistan just before the Russian invasion, emerging from the region with rolls of film sewn into his native clothing containing some of the world’s first images of the conflict. Those photos won him the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad Showing Courage and Enterprise.
McCurry’s portraits are haunting, almost too haunting – looking at them takes energy, physical effort. He has a way of capturing souls in those photos that seem to see you as much as you see them. He is one of the world’s best known war photojournalists who produces relatively few images of war itself, McCurry focuses on the human condition and consequences of war.
His career has now spanned over three decades and has seen McCurry spend huge amounts of time in South and East Asia. He originally studied cinematography and theatre but realised after finishing college that he preferred the still image. His images have a signature graphic quality and a beautiful light. His mission has been, since the early days, to highlight and celebrate the differences that culture and religion make to us humans, who are all fundamentally the same. He says he does this not by seeking out beautiful light or harmonious colours but rather by avoiding unappealing light and akward colours. In the same way that Avedon made a series of no statements to define his style,so has McCurry. He says that while a good photo is made up of good light, good design & good composition, the most important factor is the moment; finding the right place to be, to stand. The photographer’s mission is to find all of that and make it work together to create the perfect image, an image that he hopes lets the viewer give their own meaning to.
We all have hopes and dreams…want respect, want to be loved.
Some of McCurry’s most powerful images are the pure and honest portraits that capture so much of the subject in a very tight frame.
But he has no fear of confronting the viewer, making them really see. One of his big motivations for working in Asia is that he feels we don’t [/he doesn’t] see, don’t look in our own familiar scenarios. McCurry believes that the photojournalist’s job is to help people see problems, confront them, and bring people together. Looking at differences and exposing fundamental similarities.
You can see McCurry’s work here on his website and click through on the image below to see the shots from the last ever roll of Kodachrome, frame by frame.