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Steve McCurry (American, b.1950)


Steve McCurry (April 23, 1950) is an American photographer and photojournalist. Known for braving war-torn areas and for his striking, evocative portraits of the people who live there, McCurry’s work has been recognized with multiple awards over the course of an impressive career. He’s won the Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association, the Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal, and has had multiple first-place wins in the World Press Photo Contest.

McCurry attended Penn State, graduating in 1974 before working at a small town newspaper in Pennsylvania for two years. He left in 1978 to begin his journey as a freelance photojournalist in India. This would mark the start of a career that would span six continents and record innumerable iconic moments that have defined conflict photojournalism for the 20th century.

The first warzone McCurry photographed was in Afghanistan. After smuggling himself across the Pakistani border, McCurry took now-iconic photos of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He smuggled rolls of film by sewing them into his clothing. These images, full of intense colors and imagery, would be published by The New York Times, Time, and Paris Match. That year, 1980, he won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad.

December of 1984 would bring us the defining image of Steve McCurry, Afghan Girl. McCurry traveled to a refugee camp in Pakistan where he met Sharbat Gula in a one-room school for girls. "I noticed this one little girl with these incredible eyes, and I instantly knew that this was really the only picture I wanted to take," McCurry said in an interview. It was the first time the girl had ever been photographed.

This striking image is now an indelible part of our collective history. Used on the cover of National Geographic for the June 1985 issue, Afghan Girl has also been used on Amnesty International brochures and posters, humanizing the cost of conflict in a way that is both beautiful and haunting. This image has been called “the most recognized photograph” in the history of National Geographic.

It is through Afghan Girl that we can see the lens with which McCurry views the world, subjects as people rather than as political movements. It is why McCurry’s work transcends traditional photojournalistic work to become art.

“Most of my images are grounded in people,” says McCurry. “I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face. I try to convey what it is like to be that person, a person caught in a broader landscape, that you could call the human condition.”

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