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.

14 Responses to “Assignments”

  1. Dear Steve,

    Thank you so much for your inspiring photographs. Because you take so much effort to understand the environments and cultures that you photograph, there’s so much frankness and beauty in what you see and what you make us see through your photographs. I think you’ve made the most important point – that one really has to experience the places and be with the people before one photographs them. It brings a whole new dimension to the story behind the photograph.

    Thank you so much for your wonderful work – needless to say, anyone with a keen interest in photography always aspires to capture our world with the same honesty and passion that you do

  2. Hi Steve, excellent post, as usual. I finally figured out how to get to the navigation (duh!). Big fan, thanks for sharing with us.

  3. it will be my pleasure to escort you around this historical city Allahabad in uttar pradesh, to explore the most amazing things which world has never been introduced to:) any time !!!

  4. thanks for such wonderfull photos and natural live information…. much admired

  5. wonderfully put and written by the writer ….. thank you much for such amazing photos and natural live information… much touched and admired all the selections…

  6. Hi
    For me when it comes to photogrphay first its GOD and then its you!!
    I think know one can take human photography better than you.
    If you can , just let me know one thing – how do u take such shots at such low light. can u put the EXIF data as well its learing for people like us.

  7. Steve –

    Add me to your list of big fans!

    Your Blog is now bookmarked.

    Your portraits … it’s about your portraits, man. There is a quiet, a silence, a sense that nothing beyond that person’s face and presence is needed to know about the world. You will be amused to know that for years now, a set of the portrait cards you had made through Phaidon stays in my workroom, and I am now ‘very good friends’ with the amazing women of Baslan, Kabul, Banane and Tahoua! While the woman with green shawl of Peshawar that appeared on the cover of the Friends of Angkor Hospital for Children has place of honor on my worktable…no matter what I’m working on!

    You are so much admired. Glad to have this opportunity to let you know.

  8. I’m really glad to see you’re blogging. I’m a big fan of your work and appreciate your insight. John Batdorff

  9. jooprubens Says:

    Great insights!
    Reminds me of the saying: “No plan survives contact with reality”.
    Thanks so much for sharing again. As a photographer aspiring to be one day as productive and skilled as you are, I am thrilled to be reading these updates. Good luck in the field – I am sure you’ll return with some amazing work.

  10. Steve,
    Thank you for starting this blog. Only a few posts and already very inspirational. I’d have a question. Recently, I realized I have been thinking about technical stuff so much I completely forgot about photography. I’d like ot change that. My question is if you would have to go to an assignment, what would your most important lens be, what would you take, if you took only two or three lenses with you?
    And do you use a rain cover for the camera or are you using an umbrella for shots in the rain?

  11. Steve,

    I’ve loved you for a long time, even before I picked up the camera myself. I was first hooked when I saw the Afghan Girl with the Green eyes, many years ago. I was beyond excited when I saw that you would be in Stamford, CT (UCONN), but to my disappointment, I was unable to make the session. *sigh* I guess I’ll see you another time.

  12. Apurva N Sinnarkar Says:

    Hi steve,
    Your work has always inspired me, your work tells a story and makes me think beyond, its always difficult to tell a story in one frame. please tell me more about the frame in which you have shot a old man in a chin high water, carrying stiching machine in his hand(monsoon). i would also like to know which all things you look for before clicking….


    • stevemccurry Says:

      A lot of people ask about that man. He was a tailor was caught in the monsoon floodwaters in Porbandar. The city had been underwater for a week. I was a bit reluctant to wade through the water because of the dead animals and other debris floating in the streets. After trying to photograph from a boat, it became clear that the only way I could cover the flood was to wade in. I spent days wandering in water up to my waist. He had a positive attitude and did his best to keep the sewing maching above the water.

  13. Thinh Nguyen Says:

    I love your courage and your work.

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