World-renowned photojournalist Steve McCurry is no stranger to danger – he once crossed the Pakistan border disguised as a rebel, just to take pictures.
Legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said, “In photojournalistic reporting, inevitably you’re an outsider.” McCurry has spent his photography career as an outsider in countries torn by war and civil conflict, capturing the humanist elements in devastated regions. “I’m exploring how people react under adverse and tragic conditions,” McCurry said. “It is important to tell these people’s stories, and hopefully, the world will pay attention.” This week, McCurry is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the College of Creative Studies and will speak in Campbell Hall on Monday night at 8, though he will not be playing the Space Bass.
Aside from circling the globe for magazines like Time, Newsweek and Life, McCurry is known for having shot one of contemporary photography’s most famous and funkiest images: “The Afghan Girl.” That portrait, which appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985, captured a young girl in Afghanistan with a tattered red head cover and haunting green eyes. The picture appeared on the covers of books and magazines, and on posters and television. When McCurry snapped the photograph in 1984, he knew there was something special about it, but said, “Nobody could ever predict that that picture would become so iconic.” The girl in the portrait became a symbol for the suffering endured by Afghan women, and the dignity they maintain during their tragic lives.
After receiving countless letters and e-mails inquiring to know more about the life of the Afghan girl, McCurry began to search for the woman whose image he made known around the world. He spent 10 years searching Afghanistan and Pakistan (he estimates he has made “close to 20 trips” to the region). McCurry and a National Geographic team found the Afghan girl, now a woman, on a January 2002 trip, seventeen years after her famous photograph was taken. Her name was Sharbat Gula, and she was living in a Pakistan refugee camp with her husband and three daughters. “After years of searching, I had almost lost hope that we were ever going to find her,” McCurry said. “But when we found her, I was so glad to see that she had made a life for herself and was doing well.”
This year, McCurry has brought the photographic funk to Afghanistan in January, March and August, but time spent in dangerous locations is nothing new to him. “The Gulf War was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had as a photographer,” McCurry said of one of his perilous trips. “My approach was environmental, focusing on things like the 600 oil wells on fire and the devastation that caused.”
Other than Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, he has photodocumented areas including Iran, Beirut, Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia at the peaks of their conflicts. “You try to minimize the danger and work within the margins of safety,” McCurry said. “But there’s no denying that bullets are flying around.” McCurry has survived several brushes with death, including a plane crash in Slovenia, being arrested and shackled in chains in Pakistan and being beaten up and nearly drowned by religious zealots in India. When asked for advice for photography students looking to follow in his steps, McCurry warned, “This line of work isn’t for everyone.”
We think Bootsy could do it, though.