Archive for September, 2009

Thoughts on Portraiture

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 25, 2009 by stevemccurry

Tibet, 2002 

“A true portrait should today and a hundred years from today, be the testimony of how this person looked and what kind of human being he was.” – Philippe Halsman

As human beings we are all fascinated with each other and how we look. Diane Arbus talked about the gap between intention and effect  as revealed in portraiture. People put on make-up and adorn themselves because they want to create an effect and give a certain impression, but often other people look at them and say it’s tragic or comical or curious or funny or odd. Arbus photographed a woman on Park Avenue trying to make a statement with her appearance, but in fact we see through it, we see the folly. Portraiture can be that kind of sharp critique.


Srinagar, Kashmir, 1999



Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 1999

We go to another culture to observe how other people live. Sometimes you look at somebody on the street and they just seem to have a strong presence, a look, a certain kind of attribute that comes out in the face.


Timbuktu, Mali, 1986


Most of my portraits are not formal situations; they are found situations.


Bamiyan, Afghanistan, 2006


In Tibet, for instance, where people have a great sense of style, an innate fashion sense, they come out of the mountains wearing these outlandish hats, make-up, jewelry in their hair.


Bamiyan, Afghanistan, 2006


Gujarat, India, 2003

The Jains in India have exalted and highly revered monks who are naked because they consider the sky to be their garment. They are detached from material things and being naked is a symbol of their renunciation. The nuns and monks wear masks to ensure that no germs or insects creep in. How did they arrive at that, as opposed to Islam where they go to the other end of the spectrum to be covered in flowing robes?

A good portrait is one that says something about the person.  We usually see parts of ourselves in others, so the good portrait should also say something about the human condition.

FRANCE-10028, France, 1989

Marseille, France, 1987



Kabul, Afghanistan, 2006



Bamiyan, Afghanistan, 2006


I’ve learned that humor is universal. You do a little bit of mime and people laugh. It’s very easy to use humor to connect to people in any culture.

Part of what I’ve done is to wander and observe the world. What else is more interesting than that? Sometimes I think it’s good to observe our planet as though we were dropped down here to make a field report on Planet Earth.

Excerpt adapted from October 2009 FOCUS Magazine

Back in the Eternal City

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2009 by stevemccurry

I just arrived back in Rome for the opening of the The Access to Life / Global Fund Exhibition which is being held at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis in Rome, which will be open from September 18 to October 18.



I had photographed the AIDS patients before, but this assignment was different. It offered me the chance to see the positive results of the new AIDS treatments. The plan was that I was to meet people who were being given free treatment that would keep them alive.


Tiep had a breakfast stall in the market that was her family’s main source of income. But once people learned that her husband, Khanh (above)  had AIDS, many of them stopped buying food from her. Yet Khanh represents the positive side of the AIDS story; he’s now recovering and knows it wouldn’t have turned out this way had he not received free treatment.  Tiep feels that treatment has brought dignity back to her family.  “When you’re between death and life and you come back…your health becomes precious.”


Today, three million people around the world are alive thanks to antiretroviral treatment for AIDS, up from 350,000 just five years ago. By 2010, more than five million people are likely to have been given access to these drugs. Yet there is a long way to go before all the people with HIV who need these life-saving drugs have access to them. Today, the need is for 10 million people, but until we can stem the growth in new HIV infections, that number will continue to grow.

Many of us are in a position to help others, but few of us are aware of what we can do–or what a difference our contribution can make. I hope my photographs help people become more informed and find a way to contribute.


Remembering First Responders on 9/11

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 11, 2009 by stevemccurry





Dust Storm in the Desert

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 4, 2009 by stevemccurry

Rajasthan, India 1983


I was in a beat-up taxi traveling through the desert to a town called Jaisalmer near the India-Pakistan border. It was in June, and as hot as the planet ever gets. The rains had failed in that part of Rajasthan for thirteen years. I wanted to capture something of the mood of anticipation before the monsoon.

As we drove down the road, we saw a dust storm grow — a typical event before the monsoon breaks. For miles it built into a huge frightening wall of dust, moving across the landscape like a tidal wave, eventually enveloping us like a thick fog. As it arrived, the temperature dropped suddenly and the noise became deafening. Where we stopped, women and children worked on the road — something they are driven to do when the crops fail — now barely able to stand in the fierce wind, clustered together to shield themselves from the sand and dust. I tried to make pictures.

In the strange dark-orange light and howling wind, battered by sand and dust they sang and prayed.  Life and death seemed to hang in a precarious balance.




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