Steve McCurry Research

Steve McCurry, is most one of the most recognized location photographers for the image “Afghan Girl” which appeared on the cover of National Geographic 1985. McCurry was born in Philadelphia, and graduated from the College of Arts and Architecture at the Pennsylvania State University. After working at a newspaper for two years, he left for India to shoot images freelance. While in India McCurry learned to watch and wait for the people before capturing the photograph. “If you wait, people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.”

McCurrry became well known when, disguised in native clothing, he crossed the Pakistan border into rebel-controlled Afghanistan just before the Russian invasion. When he re-emerged, he had rolls of film sewn into his clothes and images that would be published around the world as among the first to show the conflict there. His coverage won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad, an award dedicated to photographers exhibiting exceptional courage and enterprise.

In 1984 McCurry was still covering armed conflicts but was photographing the Nasir Bagh refugee camp. This camp was set up to protect Afghans who fled from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. This is where McCurry shot his most famous image “Afghan Girl” which was shot in 1984 and featured on the front cover of the National Geographic issue June 1985. The image has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa and it has been called the “First World’s Third World Mona Lisa”.

McCurry has received numerous awards, including three World Press Competition First Places during the 1990’s, and more recently a National Press Photographers Association award (2006). He has won the Olivier Rebbot Award twice.

McCurry’s work is an important starting point for any budding photographer. I find his work beautiful but the story behind many of the shots is just as important as the image. His work has been featured in many major magazines and his dedication to National Geographic still continues today, and is an important part of his legacy.


I do not own these images, they are Steve McCurry’s own work

This image is called “Red Boy” and was shot at the Holi Festival in Mumbai (Bombay, India). Holi is a Hindu religious festival that takes place in spring. It is known as the festival of colours or the festival of love. The festival is about the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring and the end of winter. This image comes at quite a contrast with the child not looking happy, when the festival is a very happy time for Hindu people. This could be due to personal issues or the fact that a photographer is taking his image. It creates a visual juxtaposition that is quite a conundrum.


SM 2

I do not own these images, they are Steve McCurry’s own work

McCurry shot this image in 1983 during the India monsoons in the Bojonegor Regency. This neighbourhood had been flooded for 15 days. Pond plants had grown over creating a surreal view that the flood was pea soup. This image is interesting as it shows the residents having to put up with the flood. It shows that even in times of great stress humans can remained composed.


SM£This image has been a talking point for modern day photography and changing western views on modern day armed conflicts. The image is called “Afghan Girl” but is also referred to as the “First World’s Third World Mona Lisa”. McCurry caused some controversy when it was announced that he hadn’t written down the name of the girl. (This was compared to when Dorothea Lange shot the image of the Migrant Mother who turned out to be called Florence Owens Thompson.) McCurry made multiple unsuccessful attempts during the 1990’s to locate her. In January 2002 National Geographic sent a team to locate her. They started at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp, and found many claiming to be her. They came across someone who was able to point them in the right direction. The subject was then identified and confirmed to be Sharbat Gula. For many this image is one of the most striking images in the last years of the 20th Century. At its most basic premise this a simple location portrait, shot on a Nikon FM2 Film camera with a Nikon 105 mm F/2.5 lens on a Kodachrome 64 Colour slide. It is strikingly unusual as it combines grittiness and glamour. But the portrait is so much more and has a legacy that continues today.


“If you wait, people would forget your camera and the soul world drifts into view,” –

“the First World’s Third World Mona Lisa”Wendy S. Hesford, Wendy Kozol, eds. (2005). Just Advocacy?: Women’s Human Rights, Transnational Feminisms, and the Politics of Representation. Rutgers University Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780813535890.

“unusual combination of grittiness and glamour” – America Photo Magazine


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