#MakePortraits: Monday Spotlight: Steve McCurry

The countenance is the portrait of the soul, and the eyes mark its intentions.
— Marcus Tullius Cicero

You may not know his name, but you certainly know the work of Steve McCurry. If not the broader body of images by this amazing photographer, you know this image.

The Afghan Girl on the cover of National Geographic. Photo by Steve McCurry.

The Afghan Girl on the cover of National Geographic. Photo by Steve McCurry.


Given a word to describe McCurry's work, I believe I would choose prolific. He seems at home in almost any possible photographic situation. His documentary work from abroad is stunning. His work in conflict areas, arresting. His dedication to the craft of storytelling, renown.

He's a film student turned photographer who travels the world, invests himself into other cultures in order to tell stories of global significance. I see so much of who I want to be in who he is both personally & professionally. So it made sense, to me, that Steve McCurry be our next stop on this journey toward fluency in craft.

Of his own portrait work, McCurry says, "Most of my portraits are not formal situations; they are found situations." And this, I believe is one of the hallmarks of his genius. I mean, just look at the work:

Portraits reveal a desire for human connection; a desire so strong that people who know they will never see me again open themselves to the camera, all in the hope that at the other end someone will be watching, someone who will laugh or suffer with them.
— Steve McCurry

In an interview with photographer Oded Wagenstein, McCurry was asked about the importance of story in his images, specifically as it relates to portraits.

We connect with one another via eye contact, and there is a real power in that shared moment of attention, in which you can occasionally catch a glimpse of what it must be like to be in another’s shoes. I think this is one of the most powerful things about a photograph... It is a question of the moment to reveal something interesting and profound about the human condition.
— Steve McCurry

For me, this is key. If you want to be a brilliant photographer, you have to have a hunger to understand the human condition. As I've said several times before, if we want others to listen to our story, we must first listen to theirs.

And these portraits are really a massive testimony to the way in which McCurry, who is famous for discovering a place & her people by wandering, listens. Guided by instinct, he has learned that the details make us different, but deep down we are profoundly the same.

Everybody wants to be respected, to have a sense that you’re trying to understand their culture.
— Steve McCurry

In doing the research for this spotlight, I came across this 5 part interview series by Scott Schuman, aka The Sartorialist. It's very, very good & each "episode" is quite short, but Schuman & McCurry touch on a range of questions relating to portraiture, mobile photography & working in foreign cultures.

Here is part one. Chase down the rest here.

In parting, I will leave you one more quote on which to chew. In a world dominated by digitally based shares, I find McCurry's thoughts on the requisite technology of photography to be quite inspiring.

It’s your work. It’s like a poem. You put the poem on the table and you read it and no one is going to ask you if you typed it or wrote it out long hand. No one cares how long it took or how many re-drafts you did. How many pictures did you shoot? It doesn’t matter. The proof is the final print.
— Steve McCurry

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