“I would say I am a street photographer doing ‘found situations,’” McCurry says, describing himself. That one shot is a triumph of captured observation, a whole narrative of solitude, reflective figures in a vibrant cityscape
“You can photograph nudes anywhere,” Steve McCurry says. “But these models are clothed, and each of them has her own charity. They’re purposeful and idealistic. So I wanted to show them in a particular place. That’s why Rio was perfect.”
Steve McCurry has been traveling and taking photographs for almost forty years. I have known him for thirty of them. Steve is a great photographer because he is a resourceful traveler and a humble person, and the hardest working creative person I know. He is always watchful, absolutely hawkeyed for the way things are, for finding the humanity in every picture. One of these pictures, of Sharbat Gula the green-eyed Afghan teenager he shot in a refugee camp in 1984 has been called one the most widely recognized photographic images ever. Being Steve, he tracked the woman down 17 years later and photographed her again.
He was a traveler before he was a photographer, and he has always been a risk-taker. As a 22 year old, looking for subjects, he hitchhiked from his home in the US and traveled through Mexico and Central America, as far as Panama (“I bought some lenses there”). Before he was thirty he had traveled through Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, and alone down the Nile, into Uganda and Kenya; he lived a vagabond life in India for two years in the late 1970s, and visited Nepal and Thailand. And he sneaked into Afghanistan, disguised as an Afghan peasant. He was still in his Twenties.
Famously, early in 1979, during a period of civil war, he grew a beard, dressed in native garb, a shalwar kameez, and followed a group of five Afghans from Chitral in the rugged Northwest Frontier Province in Pakistan to the Kunar Valley in Afghanistan, photographing burned out villages and bombings and atrocities. He walked the whole way, on mountain paths, living on berries, sleeping in huts. Ten months later, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, his were the first photographs to be published in Europe and America, of defiant Afghan mujahedin.
After another visit to Afghanistan, and assignments in Beirut, Baluchistan, and the Cambodian border, he acquired the reputation as a war photographer. “But that wasn’t what a wanted. I wanted to be a freelance, going wherever I wanted to go.”
He got his wish – in his travels, in India, South America, Japan and Africa he has dedicated himself to his art, looking for the light; many of his pictures are historic, and he has incidentally chronicled in his photographs the habits and routines and costumes of a vanished world.
“I am proud of the locations and the settings and the light in this project,” Steve McCurry says of the Rio shoot for the Pirelli calendar. “The mission is in finding light, the right time of day, the right place, and then trying to make it all work. Light is everything.”