artist / participant
Steve McCurry was born in 1950 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1974 he graduated cum laude from Pennsylvania State University, where he studied film and theatrical arts. Having chosen photojournalism as a profession, he worked on a local newspaper for a few years. In 1978 he made his first journey to India. With the help of a group of refugees, he managed to cross the Afghan border from Pakistan and reach the territory under rebel control. At that time Afghanistan was closed to Western journalists due to the entry of Soviet forces and McCurry became the first photographer to succeed in showing the world images of the conflict. McCurry travelled around Afghanistan illegally, disguised as a local inhabitant. He grew a beard and dressed in the local manner, sewing reels of film into his clothing. He managed to bring back a whole series of pictures and to become the first to show the world the tragedy of the Afghan people.
Since that time McCurry has travelled around a great many countries. In his works he shows military conflicts, disappearing peoples, ancient traditions and the modern world, focussing each time on an individual human story. When covering wars and armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Yugoslavia, Cambodia and the Philippines, he has always striven to show the human dimension of those events, looking at them through the eyes of the local inhabitants.
The poetry of McCurry’s photographs is founded on insights into a person’s psychological states. The main attention in his works is devoted to people’s faces. He shows brutality, violence and humanitarian crises through the images of those who, against their will, have become victims of tragic events. We see human beings suffering, wretched, devastated; their profound looks captivate us. Attention to the state of the individual enables Steve McCurry to extract his personages from everyday life, turning their faces into symbols. The reporting approach unexpectedly proves no more than a means to capturing the very essence of things. The same can be said of the photographs of cities and localities. Those almost always contain people that seem to have got into the shot by chance. They give it a human dimension, pointing to the human being’s exact place in the cosmos.
Steve McCurry’s exhibition makes it possible to present his works in the context of outstanding creations by artists of past centuries. The photographer’s pictures will remain in the Hermitage’s collection as their creator is making a gift of them to the museum’s Department of Contemporary Art. Here they will be alongside drawings, prints and early photographs produced by artist travellers of the past. Those include materials from geographical expeditions that recorded the appearance of inhabitants of Siberia and the Far East and drawings made during military campaigns in the Caucasus and journeys around Central Russia. All these images of the world set down in the form in which they presented themselves to a person, record our emotions and feelings, preserving them for history and ultimately enabling us to better understand ourselves.
The exhibition features over 80 works by the artist, including the famous portrait of the “Afghan Girl”, a piercing image that has since been rated the most recognizable picture in the over-100-year history of the magazine National Geographic.