Steve McCurry was born on 23 April 1950 in a small town in Pennsylvania. He enrolled at Penn State University to study photography and film and graduated with a degree in theatre in 1974. He began his interest in photography early on and became involved with Penn State’s daily newspaper, The Daily Collegian.
After two years working at Today’s post, he left for India as a freelance photographer.
His career was launched when, disguised in traditional clothes, he crossed the border between Pakistan and rebel-held Afghanistan shortly before the Russian invasion. When he returned, he took with him rolls of film sewn between his clothes. Those images were among the first to show the conflict to the world. His report won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad, an award given to photographers who have distinguished themselves through exceptional courage and achievement.
McCurry went on to photograph international conflicts, including the wars in Iran-Iraq, Beirut, Cambodia, the Philippines, Afghanistan and the Gulf War. McCurry’s work has been featured in magazines around the world and he is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Magazine. McCurry has been a member of Magnum Photos since 1986.
He has won numerous awards, including Magazine Photographer of the Year, awarded by the National Press Photographers’ Association. The same year he won first prize in the World Press Photo Contest for the fourth year running. He has also won the Olivier Rebbot Memorial Award twice.
McCurry focuses on the human consequences of war, showing not only what war imprints on the landscape but, rather, on the human face. He is driven by an innate curiosity and sense of wonder about the world and all who inhabit it, and has an uncanny ability to cross the boundaries of language and culture to capture stories of human experience.
“Most of my photos are rooted in people. I look for the moment when the most genuine soul emerges, when experience is etched on a person’s face. I try to convey what a person can be in a broader context that we could call the human condition. I want to convey the visceral sense of beauty and wonder that I have found in front of me, during my travels, when the surprise of being a stranger mixes with the joy of familiarity”.
The success behind “The afghan girl”
McCurry’s most famous portrait, Afghan Girl, was taken in a refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan. The image was named as ‘the most recognised photograph’ in the history of National Geographic magazine; her face became famous and is now remembered as ‘the cover photo of June 1985’. The photo has also been widely used on Amnesty International brochures, as well as posters and calendars.
The identity of the ‘Afghan Girl’ remained unknown for over 17 years until McCurry and a team from National Geographic found the woman, Sharbat Gula, in 2002. When McCurry finally found her, he said: “Her skin is scarred, now there are wrinkles, but she is exactly as extraordinary as she was all those years ago.
The exhibition in Bari
Steve McCurry’s exhibition entitled “Leggere” (Reading) is open to the public until 25 August in Bari’s Teatro Margherita.
The exhibition, curated by Biba Giacchetti with set design by Peter Bottazzi, presents around 70 images. This tribute to the beauty and seduction of reading brings together a collection of photographs taken by Steve McCurry in his almost forty years of travel. McCurry’s lens reveals the power of books to transport people to distant worlds and imagined memories, in the present, the past and the future.
The places chosen are very different: they range from the places of prayer in Turkey to the market streets in Italy, from the sounds of India to the silences of Asia.
Biba Giacchetti affirms:
“In about 70 images, selected by me for this exhibition, which also includes unpublished works compared to the book Leggere, from which it is inspired, McCurry explores a cosmos that is anomalous compared to his usual production. The relationship he offers us is no longer with the portrayed subject, as he has accustomed us, but between the subject and the written word.
The author invites us to observe, almost silently, what happens in this shifted universe, where people abandon their reality, even their dramatic reality, to be totally absorbed by something else. McCurry spies on them with us, in a confirmation of the power of reading to abstract us from the present and to lead each individual into a personal and secret world of his own”.