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).
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.”
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.”



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