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Tuesday, 06 September 2011


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If you are lucky enough to go with Mr. McCurry on one of his Burma workshops, you might be even luckier to see him make a Burmese child cry in order to photograph the "raw" emotion.

I heard last week that I was being entered in to Flickr Hall of Lame. Even though I don't use Flickr I thought it was nice to be recognised for my crimes against photography. Imagine my disappointment when hearing that I'd be sharing my award with four billion others

Steve McCurry did not attend


Simply Wow! He's definitely one of the greatest documentary photogs of our time.

OMG! Thank you, thank you, thank you for linking this!

Yes, he shoots primarily Nikon, and some Hasselblad. There is a lot of chatter on the Leica User Forum about why he received an award in recognition of "service to the Leica brand and to photography..."

He did, however, receive a Leica M9-P (with his name) as part of this honor, so Leica can now promote him as a Leica owner. Brilliant marketing.

According to this blog entry, one might question his effectiveness as a teacher...http://arifiqball.com/blog/2011/03/01/reflections-on-steve-mccurry-myanmar-workshop/ There has also been a fair amount of controversy surrounding the possible 'staging' of many of his photographs. He wouldn't be the first.

"Staging" isn't an issue for me with him, as I consider him essentially a portrait photographer. Nobody ever minded that Arnold Newman or Karsh "staged" their pictures.


And I can´t pick out my ten best.

P.S. That's enough on Arif Iqball for this go-round, please. Sheesh. One disgruntled workshop participant, and the man is going to be hounded forever.


EXCELLENT! Thank you Mike, Vlatko and Leica.

I think McCurry has a great eye for the beautiful, is a master of color composition and no doubt works his ass off. But given the time and resources that NGS has historically provided, how could you not hit a few hundred homers over the course of 30 years?

Very nice - I'm a fan of Steve McCurry's & check out his blog from time to time. My only problem with the video is the music. I actually like the music (Barber's Adagio ?), but it doesn't fit the video at all. I found it distracting and enjoyed it more with the sound off.

"given the time and resources that NGS has historically provided, how could you not hit a few hundred homers over the course of 30 years?"

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you just don't realize how incredibly obnoxious that comment is.


Have to agree with Dennis. It is indeed Barber's "Adagio for Strings", a piece I love, but it did not seem appropriate to the images.

Very nice slide show, but to me this type of photography calls out for captions.

Pretty amazing stuff.

Maybe NGS gave him the resources because they realized how talented he was...

Few people who do things this well, in any field, are conventionally "nice."


I first watched it with the sound turned off and decided there was something missing. I started it over with the sound on, and I think the Adagio makes it perfect.
Also, after seeing it a couple of times, I wish it had some captions, at least identifying the location.

Those are simply stunning photographs.


Mike, in light of your view of McCurry as a portrait photographer, it's interesting to note Leica's rationale for naming him to the Hall of Fame, as explained by Dr. Kaufmann...http://us.leica-camera.com/culture/hall_of_fame/

Note especially the last paragraph, which states...""More than almost anyone else, Steve McCurry has recorded the terrible consequences of war and persecution ..." I don't think of McCurry primarily this way (as I do someone like James Nachtwey), but I think he's a terrific photographer nonetheless.

Nice show. But I too found the Barber accompaniment schlocky. Note to photographers (and all artists): alas, when someone else is presenting your work, you have to ride them about every aspect of it. You never know when some intern or misguided producer is going to undermine your efforts with a truly bad decision about a matter that you hadn't even considered. (This is assuming McCurry didn't choose the music...)

It is an interesting aspect of the human psyche that some feel the need to say things like "how could you not hit a few hundred homers." I guess it is a defense mechanism of some sort. It's akin to saying "my portfolio would be just as impressive as Steve's if NG paid me to fly around the world and take pictures."

I have a friend who is an accomplished marathoner and has written books about his experiences and often is paid to speak about it. One year my friend ran 50+ marathons. He tells me that when he speaks to groups of children, they are excited by his story and want to go try something great. But often when he speaks to adults they come up after the speech and try to figure out what advantage he has that they don't have, that permits his success. An encounter with such a person goes like this.

Attendee: Someone was paying you to run those marathons, right?
Speaker: No. I did it for me.
Attendee: Well, they paid for your flights and hotels, right?
Speaker: No. I arranged my own travel.
Attendee: Well, you didn't also need to hold a job while you were doing that, I'm sure.
Speaker: I worked a full time job during the same 12 months.
Attendee: Well, you aren't married with kids are you?
Speaker: No. Not married. No kids.
Attendee: Ahh...

And there it is... The attendee is happy because now he knows why my friend could do this and he couldn't. As if, but for his wife and kids, the attendee would also have run 50+ marathons that year. Or heck, maybe every year. Mystery solved.

I think if NG paid me to fly around the world and take pictures, I would have some interesting shots and some great stories. I wouldn't have Steve's portfolio.

"Nobody ever minded that Arnold Newman or Karsh 'staged' their pictures."

Mike, yes, like Newman said, "Photography is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent moving furniture."

I've long ago learned to separate the artist from their art (Triumph Of The Will has some of the greatest visuals ever), but I do find it disturbing when photographers have been called on their practice or behavior- whether it's how they photograph underage models, or in this case, how they photograph people in third world countries or treat their unpaid assistants.

Perhaps this is just the case of one, or two or more disgruntled participants- maybe. But no one is attacking the quality of his work or his art, and he certainly wouldn't be the first (name) photographer to behave like an asshole. One of the reasons such behavior continues to be tolerated, is because few people are willing to call them on it.

I don't think Mr. McCurry is losing any sleep over this, and as is clearly demonstrated, he hasn't lost out commercially. A great photographer perhaps, and more than likely very much the imperfect human being- as are we all.

I really like these infos and links about various photographers. Very nice! And thanks.

Careers in photography are to some extent self-fulfilling; people make great photos because they're sent to places with good stuff to photograph, which clients do because they've previously made great photos.

Continuing to perform at that level for an entire career is a HUGE achievement, though. It's simply not true that most photographers would have made great photos given those opportunities.

"A few hundred homers"

Just think of how many of us would be thrilled with just one of those images in our portfolios let alone two but dozens is pretty much inconceivable here is a guy with hundreds and no doubt thousands of others he himself rejected 'cause they weren't good enough.
I don't get it... It's about the image and what it accomplishes... simple as that.

It is... interesting? ... or some other quality... that the one B&W photo seems to be the weakest of the lot by far. No strong contrast, no vibrancy, no impact. An argument not to include B&W with colour? :) Or it's just that it should have been processed differently to fit in with the rest?

"Few people who do things this well, in any field, are conventionally 'nice.'"

In my experience, this is too broad a statement. Sometimes busy people come across as, well, busy people, but there are many successful people who are fundamentally good people. Unless you're using some definition of "nice" that I'm not familiar with.

I thought Steve McCurry shot with a Hasselblad.

Thanks Mike,
powerful images. With my geology hat on I'm wondering if anyone saw the earthquake that cracked the temple @01:38, that must have been impressive.

best wishes phil

""given the time and resources that NGS has historically provided, how could you not hit a few hundred homers over the course of 30 years?"

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you just don't realize how incredibly obnoxious that comment is.



Anyway, envy, jealousy and all other things aside, what beautiful images. Viewing several times really brings out the stunning composition.

Thanks Mike.

Fantastic photographs but I found the whole slideshow incredibly depressing - not helped by the sombre music. My question is, is it possible to achieve fame and recognition as a photographer without specialising in poverty, human suffering, war and disasters?

Agreed 100% about the music; utterly unnecessary. But the photos are very good, no matter whether "staged".

It seems I inadvertently stepped on someone's toes with my previous post, which wasn't my intent. As is getting into a pissing contest over styles of work, art vs. illustration, or sacred cows.

This is why I prefaced my comment with a bit of honest praise, neither backhanded or faint.

I think McCurry is a great color photographer with a great eye for the beautiful, with beautifully composed and balanced images.

Is this not praise enough?

But when I look at the work of McCurry,Abell, Allard and many of the past and present great NGS photographers,I see significant differences among them and I see the similarities that come from having a job and shooting assignments for a magazine with one of the most defined looks in the world.

Was this shot done with a cover in mind? A double truck? Was that shot staged a bit to get the farmer and the plow at the right spot at the right time? Was the girl with the green eyes pure discovery or one of many that day? Was the selection of the background and lighting best for the NGS look?

Which is not to say that I think that the magazine process excludes great photography, with Smith's Minamata as just one recent example on this site.

Only that when I look at McCurry's work,and the work of other NGS photographers I see the job in it. I seen the strictures and constraints. Abell nearly got fired for being too personal with his point of view, and Turner turned the job down because he knew he couldn't work with such tight parameters.

So when I go to vimeo and look at McCurry's images with symphonic music in the background my gag reflex kicks in just a bit, and I need to spit up a little.

I think they're great images, made by a great photographer, but also with the job in them. The look. Made over the course of 30 years, with the time and resources to make hundreds of beautiful, in some cases iconic images.

So please Mike, take this as my personal opinion.

Thanks for clarifying your points, Karl--that was much better to read. Your earlier comment sounded dismissive and scornful.


Slide show was beautiful. Hasselblad is claiming him too. How else to get the giant prints? Good for Hasselblad to quote him including "I have always shot Nikon and I always will."


Do any of us know Steve personally? I think we shouldn't pre-judge. We know one random guy's opinion of him, but I don't know the opinion of the guy whose opinion matters most to me--namely, me.


Coincidentally, McCurry was interviewed on BBC Radio Four's PM programme this afternoon. Think it was tied in with an exhibition of his work opening over here -didn't catch that bit.

He didn't mention brands but he declared himself to be a huge fan of digital mainly because it allowed him to shoot in low light.

Scott, I have a simpler reaction to someone who runs 50 marathons in a year -- "You're insane! I kind of admire that, from a safe distance."

I think it was Stieglitz (maybe not?) that said when queried by a reporter who asked if this photography stuff wasn't simply just a matter of luck? He replied "Yes, and isn't it surprising that the same few photographers seem to have all of the luck."

Marshall quoted me and then commented:

"Few people who do things this well, in any field, are conventionally 'nice.'"

In my experience, this is too broad a statement. Sometimes busy people come across as, well, busy people, but there are many successful people who are fundamentally good people. Unless you're using some definition of "nice" that I'm not familiar with.

Well, if you want to chop definitions for a while, I'm up for it. First of all, "good" and "nice" are not the same thing, as you imply. "Goodness" is a quality of high virtue; people who are good enough become saints. "Nice" is well-mannered; people who are well-mannered enough become constipated. A thoroughly bad person can be well-mannered, and vice-versa. And my phrase, "conventionally nice" is something yet again.

In the course of twenty-five years as a newspaper reporter, I met a lot of well-known and high-achieving people, and none of them that I can think of (with, now that I think of it, the possible exception of William Shatner) that seemed all that "nice." It wasn't that they were trying to be impolite, it was just that they were busy and pre-occupied and had little time for fools, and newspaper reporters, unfortunately, often had to be fools, in the sense that you had to ask the obvious and sometimes stupid question. ("How do you feel about your son OD-ing?")

So, I stand by my statement. However many high-achievers may be "good" people, few that I have encountered seem to be conventionally nice. Most were extremely straight-forward, blunt, judgmental, sometimes manipulative, and most often very smart. Think Steve Jobs. I don't know whether Jobs was a good man, but his manner seemed to be to be quite typical of a lot of high-achievers.


The last roll of Kodachrome was shot with a Nikon F6.


I always thought that McCurry was equipment agnostic, I've seen photos of him using Leica, Nikon, Hasselblad and a Sony R1. I think the truth of the matter is that for a lot of working professionals the camera is just a tool and they go through phases of using a particular one because it matches well with what they are trying to do. Brand loyalty is something I tend to associate more with the people who frequent camera forums.

In Australia we have an awful character trait that goes under the name of "Tall Poppy Syndrome". What happens is that when anyone achieves any sort of fame or recognition for something the rest of the community seek to bring them down to their level through all sorts of back biting comments and behaviours. Something of this has been exhibited here, thankfully it has only been a couple of comments rather than a group of people uniting to do this.

McCurry is at the end of a day a photographer. It is the image and only the image he profers for us to cast our eye over. I will at this point say I'm a great fan and have several books. His images to my mind are wonderful. The use of colour and composition is wonderful. Although I primarily see him as a documentary portrait photographer his more general (if that is the right term) documentary work is still outstanding. Like Bill Allard he honed a style using low speed Kodachrome, an exacting material to work with under the best conditions, McCurry has learnt to be very patient and particular, which probably does not suit many who attend his workshops as they are time limited and want to see the "great" man in action. As to his character, well is that really important? It is his work that I'm interested in. John Camp hit the nail on the head, he may not be be what is conventially regarded as nice but by looking at what he does he certainly has a great deal of passion and commitment and that shows in his work.

The subtext of people saying bad things about good photographers seems is basically, "Well, sure, he's a good photographer; look what he does to get those results. I could do that as well but I'm above all that; I, in contrast to him, am a good person, which is more important."

The sad thing is that I'm not only a bastard, but a relatively mediocre photographer as well :p

...I wish I could get those colors!!

Take a name photographer for another brand (Nikon), give him an award associated with your brand and search engine optimize to make queries of 'Steve McCurry show up with Leica'. Time this with the release of a new book and you snatch the other guys lunch.

Leica is just proving it is better at marketing than Nikon. Nothing really new there. The big "N" seems happy to be associated with Ashton Kucher rather than McCurry, you would think Nikon would have made him a "factory shooter" or something.

Regardless of what he uses, the guy is brill.

Only that when I look at McCurry's work, and the work of other NGS photographers I see the job in it.

Well, yes. Isn't there something called the NatGeo style? The so-called bold composition with the centre of interest strongly stressed seems to be the most noticeable element. All of their photography/art directors seem to like the colour separation of the centre of interest, too.

And yes, if you shoot for a magazine, you have to have the layout strictures in mind, whatever the magazine. So yes, you should think whether a photo would be a good cover or a spread. The photo can be placed on the page and cropped or moved around, but it's certainly better if you have a good photo you can just plop down and have all the other elements of the page fall into their places "naturally".

But even within those limitations, McCurry is really good.

An "idealistic agenda" always looks great as long as it doesn't have to conflict with reality.

My 6 year old daughter on watching the slideshow, "Why are most of his pictures so sad?"

I'm with Paogao. I could do with some of that not-nice. And for some of us, its colour!

Sometimes a photographer is so good that you end up ignoring his work. I've seen so many of McCurry's images that I 've become almost blind to them. McCurry certainly has one stunning portofoilio, and yes, they are sad images indeed (and I know nothing of the music, since my workstation has no speakers).

The work is wonderful. I find the music sets a mood. I almost always prefer music while viewing photos. It separates me from the surroundings a bit. Maybe its not the perfect selection but better than none.

The workshop critique remarks were interesting to me, in that, they suggested his method of working is more akin to Arnold Newman and Karsh, than say, Nachway(sp?). Which I do think is fairly significant.


But, at the end of the day, the photos are the topic and I wish they were in my portfolio. That is my final criteria.
One last thing... whichever brand camera he uses, I commend Leica for celebrating photography. Not just photos taken with their cameras.

"My six-year-old daughter on watching the slideshow: 'Why are most of his pictures so sad?'"

Not to discount the "music" factor.... But, maybe it's just that the images depict what would be construed as poverty and a 'difficult human condition' to a child used to a more comfortable way of life? That, or that these aren't the kinds of pictures where people are told to smile and they mug for the camera....


+ Paul Aymes comment is spot-on.

Wow!! I had to watch it a couple times to help the images sink into my core... I do not usually forward work to my friends but this one I had to send out to share with some people that will appreciate it.

Steve is one of the finest photographers to come along in a long time. His vision transcends equipment and color and goes right to the heart and soul of mankind....Thanks for sharing.

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