Archive for May, 2009

Becoming a Photographer

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2009 by stevemccurry

When people ask me how they can become a photographer, I almost never mention cameras, lenses,  or technique. 

I say, ‘If you want to be a photographer, first leave home.’ As Paul Theroux, a great writer and friend, further advises, “Go as far as you can. Become a stranger in a strange land. Acquire humility.

Leaving home really means that the photographer (or writer) has to wander, observe, and to paraphrase Theroux, concentrate on people in their landscape. That is what I try to achieve in my pictures.


Posted in Uncategorized on May 15, 2009 by stevemccurry

I am on assignment now and am traveling in India; today I am in Ladakh.  People often ask me how I get started on an assignment. 

Most of my photographic projects now involve places I’ve already been to and experienced. With the monsoon in India, I had already been experiencing it, actually living it, for two or three years.

I did a story recently on the Bamiyan region in Afghanistan, the home of the Hazara people, a  people who came to Afghanistan perhaps a thousand years ago. They are a very peaceful, long-suffering tribe, who somehow end up on the short end of the stick. They are more mistreated than the Kurds and do all of the menial jobs. The giant Buddhas they had protected for centuries were destroyed by the Taliban, and hundreds of Hazara villages were burned and the people were murdered.  I’d already spent years observing them and living among them.

So, as far as research goes, I want to arrive at a place with a pretty good idea of what I’m going to do. But there’s no point, really, in spending time trying to come up with a lot of pre-conceived ideas because you will always end up being disappointed. I usually get to a place and immerse myself in the situation and then go from there.  Since I’ve been so many places I have a long list of situations and places and people that I would love to photograph.

Since I’ve always been interested in photographing Afghanistan, South Asia, Tibet and Buddhist countries, it’s  a continuum rather than an assignment. I might get an assignment, but it’s really adding to my body of work. 

While focusing on the assignment, it’s important to understand the big picture and  how it will contribute to your personal archive.

Inspiration and Intuition

Posted in Uncategorized on May 14, 2009 by stevemccurry

What inspires me?  Henri Cartier Bresson’s work has been an inspiration to me, but people living their everyday lives inspire me too. 

Fishermen cleaning nets, families sharing meals and celebrations, artisans crafting their wares, nomads continually on the move; even the most seemingly mundane activities can be inspirational when you look beneath the surface.

People ask me how I can identify the best moment to take a photograph.  I tell them that it is intuitive and reflexive.  You’re never sure of the moment because you’re always looking and anticipating.  You’re never quite sure when the moment is right, because it can either peak or evaporate.

A Familiar Question

Posted in Uncategorized on May 6, 2009 by stevemccurry

People often ask me what makes a good picture.  What makes the good picture stand out from the average?

Here is one answer:
If we look at the photographers whose work we admire,  we see that they’ve found a particular place, theme, or subject, dug deep into it, and carved out something that’s become special.  That takes a lot of time and a lot of work; it’s not for everyone.  A great photograph really needs to say something about a person or give some insight into their life or how their life is different than yours and mine.  A good picture makes us curious and makes us want to know more.


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