Steve McCurry

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Steve McCurry
Steve McCurry (5824371040).jpg
McCurry in 2011
Born (1950-04-23) April 23, 1950 (age 72)
AgentMagnum Photos
Notable credit(s)Leica Hall of Fame Award, Hasselblad Master Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad

Steve McCurry (born April 23, 1950) is an American photographer, freelancer, and photojournalist. His photo Afghan Girl, of a girl with piercing green eyes, has appeared on the cover of National Geographic several times. McCurry has photographed many assignments for National Geographic and has been a member of Magnum Photos since 1986.[1]

McCurry is the recipient of numerous awards, including Magazine Photographer of the Year, awarded by the National Press Photographers Association; the Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal;[2] and two first-place prizes in the World Press Photo contest (1985 and 1992).

Life and work[edit]

McCurry was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and attended Penn State University. He originally planned to study cinematography and filmmaking, but instead gained a degree in theater arts and graduated in 1974. He became interested in photography when he started taking pictures for the Penn State newspaper The Daily Collegian.[3]

After a year working in India, McCurry traveled to northern Pakistan where he met two Afghans who told him about the war across the border in Afghanistan.[4]

McCurry's career was launched when, disguised in Afghani garb, he crossed the Pakistan border into rebel-controlled areas of Afghanistan just before the Soviet invasion.[5] "As soon as I crossed the border, I came across about 40 houses and a few schools that were just bombed out," he says. He left with rolls of film sewn into his turban and stuffed in his socks and underwear.[4] These images were subsequently published by The New York Times, Time and Paris Match[6] and won him the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad.[7]

McCurry covered more armed conflicts like the Iran–Iraq War, Lebanon Civil War, the Cambodian Civil War, the Islamic insurgency in the Philippines, the Gulf War and the Afghan Civil War. McCurry came close to losing his life twice. He was almost drowned in India, and he survived an airplane crash in Yugoslavia. McCurry has had his work featured in magazines worldwide and he is a frequent contributor to National Geographic.[5]

McCurry concentrates on the toll war takes on humans. He intends to show what war does to not only the landscape, but to the people who inhabit that land. "Most of my images are grounded in people. 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."[6] What McCurry wants his viewers to take away from his photographs is the "human connection between all of us." He believes there is always some common thing between all humans despite the differences in religion, language, ethnicity, etc.[4] McCurry also states, "I have found that I get completely consumed by the importance of the story I am telling, the feeling that the world has got to know. It's never about the adrenaline. It's about the story."[3] However, sometimes McCurry has witnessed some "horrific" and "distressing" sights. In times like these, he uses his camera as a "shield" because it's easier to witness these events through a viewfinder.[3]

On September 10, 2001, McCurry had just gotten back from Tibet. The morning of September 11, McCurry received a call saying the World Trade Center was on fire. He went up to the roof of his building and started taking photographs, unaware that it was a plane that had hit the towers. McCurry was on the roof when both of the towers fell, "they were just gone. It didn’t seem possible. Like you’re seeing something but you don’t really believe what you’re seeing."[8] After the fall of the towers, McCurry ran to Ground Zero with his assistant. He describes the scene, "there was this very fine white powder everywhere and all this office paper, but there was no recognizable office equipment—no filing cabinets, telephones, computers. It seemed like the whole thing had been pulverized." McCurry left later that night and went back early on September 12, he didn't have any press credentials and had to sneak past security. He was eventually caught and escorted off Ground Zero; he did not go back again.[8]

McCurry is portrayed in a TV documentary The Face of the Human Condition (2003) by Denis Delestrac.[9]

McCurry switched from shooting color slide film to digital capture in 2005 for the convenience of editing in the field and transmitting images to photo editors. He said that he had no nostalgia about working in film in an interview with The Guardian. "Perhaps old habits are hard to break, but my experience is that the majority of my colleagues, regardless of age, have switched over ... The quality has never been better. You can work in extremely low light situations, for example."[10]

McCurry shoots in both film and digital, but says he prefers shooting with transparency film. Eastman Kodak gifted him the last roll of Kodachrome film to ever be produced by Kodak. McCurry shot the roll, which was processed in July 2010 by Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas. Most of these photos were published on the Internet by Vanity Fair. McCurry states, "I shot it for 30 years and I have several hundred thousand pictures on Kodachrome in my archive. I'm trying to shoot 36 pictures that act as some kind of wrap up – to mark the passing of Kodachrome. It was a wonderful film."[11]

In 2015, he was hired by Microsoft to take photographs in areas of New Zealand, which were used as wallpapers in Windows 10.[12]

In 2019, his book Steve McCurry. Animals was published by Taschen and is a compilation of his favorite photographs of animals.[13]

Afghan Girl[edit]

McCurry took Afghan Girl in December 1984.[14] It portrays an approximately 12-year-old Pashtun orphan in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan.[15] McCurry found the girl when he heard "unexpected laughter" coming from children inside a one-room school tent 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," he says. This was the first time the girl had ever been photographed.[16] The image was named as "the most recognized photograph" in the history of the National Geographic magazine, and was used as the cover photograph on the June 1985 issue. The photo has also been widely used on Amnesty International brochures, posters, and calendars. The identity of the "Afghan Girl" remained unknown for over 17 years until McCurry and a National Geographic team located the woman, Sharbat Gula, in 2002. McCurry said, "Her skin is weathered; there are wrinkles now, but she is as striking as she was all those years ago."[17]

Afghan Girl controversy[edit]

In 2019, a vlogger and professional photographer by the name of Tony Northrup released a research documentary accusing McCurry of obtaining the photograph under false pretenses, and endangering Gula's wellbeing in doing so.[18] McCurry's publicity team responded by accusing Northrup of slander, and the clip was removed. Shortly thereafter, however, it was re-uploaded with a number of corrections, with an accompanying document that detailed a number of sources Northrup had obtained.[19] Sharbat Gula herself had also previously provided some commentary on the photograph, published by BBC News in 2017.[20]

Photo manipulation[edit]

In 2016 McCurry was accused of extensively manipulating his images with Photoshop and by other means, removing individuals and other elements. [21][22]

In a May 2016 interview with PetaPixel, McCurry did not specifically deny making major changes, indicating that he now defines his work as "visual storytelling" and as "art". However, he subsequently added that others print and ship his images while he is travelling, implying that they were responsible for the significant manipulation. "That is what happened in this case. It goes without saying that what happened with this image was a mistake for which I have to take responsibility," he concluded.[23]

When discussing the issue with a writer for Time's Lightbox website, McCurry provided similar comments about being a "visual storyteller", though without suggesting that the manipulation was done by others without his knowledge. In fact, the Time writer made the following statement, "Faced with mounting evidence of his own manipulations, McCurry has been forced to address his position in photography." In neither interview did he discuss when the heavy photo manipulation began, or which images have been manipulated. However, considering the controversy it has created, he said that "going forward, I am committed to only using the program in a minimal way, even for my own work taken on personal trips."[24] McCurry also offered the following conclusion to Time Lightbox, "Reflecting on the situation ... even though I felt that I could do what I wanted to my own pictures in an aesthetic and compositional sense, I now understand how confusing it must be for people who think I'm still a photojournalist."

McCurry, NYC, 911[edit]

In 2016 French comic writer Jean-David Morvan and South Korean artist Kim Jung Gi published a biographical graphic novel about Steve McCurry, titled McCurry, NYC, 911. [25] [26]

McCurry: The Pursuit of Color[edit]

In 2021, the documentary biopic entitled McCurry: The Pursuit of Color,[27] directed by Denis Delestrac, produced by Intrepido Films and Polar Star Films and distributed by Dogwoof and Karma Films, was officially selected at the Doc NYC film festival (USA), Festival de Malaga (Spain), and Glasgow Film Festival (Scotland) amongst others. The Spanish cinema release was in June 2022.


  • 1987 – Medal of Honor for coverage of the 1986 Philippine Revolution, Philippines, White House News Photographers Association[28]
  • 1992 – First Place Nature and Environment Oil-Stricken Bird, Kuwait First Place, General News Stories: Kuwait after the Storm Children's Award: "Camels Under a Blackened SKy", World Press Photo Competition[29]
  • 1992 – Magazine Feature Picture Award of Excellence: Fiery Aliens First Place, Magazine Science Award: Camels Under A Blackended Sky First Place, Gulf News Sky: Kuwait After the Storm, Picture of the Year Competition[30]
  • 1992 – Oliver Pebbot Memorial Award: Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad on Golf War Coverage, Overseas Press Club[31]
  • 1993 – Award of Excellence for Rubble of War, National Press Photographers[32]
  • 1994 – Arts and Architecture Distinguished Alumni Award, Pennsylvania State University[33]
  • 1998 – Award of Excellence, Portraits: Red Boy, Picture of the Year Competition[34]
  • 2002 – Award of Excellence for "Women of Afghanistan"[35]
  • 2002 – Photographer of the Year[36]
  • 2003 – C-recipient of the New York Film Festival God for documentary, Afghan Girl Found[37]
  • 2003 – The Lucie Award for Photojournalism[38]
  • 2005 – Photojournalism Division – International Understanding through Photography award, Photographic Society of America[7]
  • 2006 – First Place, Buddha Rising, National Geographic, National Press Photographers Associate[39]
  • 2011 – Leica Hall of Fame Award[40]
  • 2014 – Photography of Appreciation Award[41]
  • 2018 – Golden Doves for Peace journalistic prize issued by the Italian Research Institute Archivio Disarmo[42]
  • 2019 – Induction into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum[43]


  • 2015–2016 – Steve McCurry: India, Rubin Museum of Art, New York[44]
  • 2015–2016 – Steve McCurry – Icons and Women, Musei di San Domenico, Forlì, Italy
  • 2016 – Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Hong Kong[45]
  • 2016 – The World Through His Lens: Steve McCurry Photographs, New York, United States[46]
  • 2017 – The World of Steve McCurry, Brussels, Belgium[47]
  • 2018 – Steve McCurry Icons, Pavia, Italy[48]
  • 2018 – 'S Wanderful-Making Pictures – Steve McCurry Solo Exhibition, Taipei, Taiwan[49]
  • 2019 – "Le Monde de Steve McCurry", La Sucrière, Lyon, France
  • 2019 – "Steve's House : permanent exhibition", Kashan, Iran
  • 2019 – "Food", Musei di San Domenico, Forlì, Italy


  • Theroux, Paul (1985). The Imperial Way. Photographs by Steve McCurry. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-395-39390-1.
  • McCurry, Steve (1988). Monsoon. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-27850-5.
  • —— (1999). Portraits. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-3839-7.
  • —— (2000). South Southeast. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-3938-7.
  • —— (2002). Sanctuary: The Temples of Angkor. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-4559-3.
  • —— (2003). The Path to Buddha: A Tibetan Pilgrimage. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-6314-6.
  • Bannon, Anthony; —— (2011). Steve McCurry. Phaidon 55. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-6259-0.
  • —— (2006). Looking East: Portraits. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-4637-8.
  • —— (2007). In the Shadow of Mountains. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-4640-8.
  • —— (2009). The Unguarded Moment. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-4664-4.
  • —— (2012). The Iconic Photographs. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-6513-3.
  • —— (2013). Steve McCurry Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-6462-4.
  • —— (2015). From These Hands: A Journey Along the Coffee Trail. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-6898-1.
  • —— (2017). Afghanistan. Cologne: Taschen. ISBN 978-3-8365-6936-1.
  • McCurry, Steve; —— (2018). Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures. London: Laurence King Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78627-235-5.
  • —— (2020). Steve McCurry In Search of Elsewhere: The Unseen Images. London: Laurence King Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78627-917-0.


  1. ^ Matthews, Katherine Oktober (November 13, 2013). "It's All Mixed: An Interview with Steve McCurry". GUP Magazine.
  2. ^ "Centenary Medal". Royal Photographic Society. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  3. ^ a b c "Magnum Photos Home".
  4. ^ a b c "Q&A With Steve McCurry" (PDF). PDN. 2003. Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Wallis Simons, Jake (June 29, 2015). "The story behind the world's most famous photograph". CNN. Retrieved June 7, 2016. ... disguised himself in Afghan clothes and crossed illegally into Afghanistan, just before the Soviet invasion.
  6. ^ a b Iqbal, Nosheen (June 28, 2010). "US photographer Steve McCurry: Go with the flow". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved June 7, 2016. To cover the war, he had dressed in salwar kameez and turban, smuggling rolls of film across the Afghan border, sewn into his coat.
  7. ^ a b "Photographer Steve McCurry Biography –". National Geographic. 25 April 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Steve McCurry: The Ground Zero Photographs". American Photo. Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  9. ^ "Steve McCurry Photographer – All About Photo". Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  10. ^ Iqbal, Nosheen (June 28, 2010). "US photographer Steve McCurry: Go with the flow". The Guardian. Retrieved June 7, 2016. He is practical about the benefits and has little patience for the nostalgic romance surrounding photographers who work only with film.
  11. ^ "Steve McCurry – Artists – LAURA RATHE FINE ART". Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  12. ^ Johnson, Marylee. "Windows 10 Wallpaper Photography – Steve McCurry". Retrieved 2020-02-15.
  13. ^ Prisco, Jacopo (2019-11-07). "Steve McCurry's photos show complex relationship between humans and animals". CNN Style. Retrieved 2019-11-11.
  14. ^ A Life Revealed- Afghan Girl, National Geographic
  15. ^ Wallis Simons, Jake (June 29, 2015). "The story behind the world's most famous photograph". CNN. able News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Retrieved June 7, 2016. ... a Pashtun orphan in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp on the Afghan-Pakistan border, was taken in December 1984 and published the following year.
  16. ^ "How One Photographer Captured A Piercing Gaze That Shook The World". NPR. Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  17. ^ "Steve McCurry – Besharat Gallery". Besharat Gallery. Retrieved 2018-03-28.
  18. ^ "You'll never see the iconic photo of the 'Afghan Girl' the same way again". The Wire(India). Retrieved 2020-02-10.
  19. ^ "Afghan Girl Sources". Tony Northrup, Google Docs. Archived from the original on 2020-01-31. Retrieved 2020-02-10.
  20. ^ "Afghan 'green-eyed girl' on her future – BBC News". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21.
  21. ^ Sanders IV, Lewis (May 31, 2016). "'Ethical lapse': Photoshop scandal catches up with iconic photojournalist Steve McCurry". DW Made for Minds. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved June 6, 2016. The world-renowned Magnum photographer has renounced the responsibilities of a photojournalist after heavily editing several of his images. But his use of Photoshop has breached photojournalism's ethics, say colleagues.
  22. ^ Cade, DL (May 6, 2016). "Botched Steve McCurry Print Leads to Photoshop Scandal". Peta Pixel. Peta Pixel. Retrieved June 7, 2016. While the original photo was soon removed from Mr. McCurry’s website, people and publications across the Web quickly began digging to see what other McCurry images they could find that had been seriously altered. They did not seem to come up empty handed.
  23. ^ "Steve McCurry's Rickshaw". PetaPixel. May 31, 2016. May 31, 2016. By now, many voices have weighed in about Steve McCurry and the evidence that he has consistently and substantially altered details in his photos. A fresh set of examples appeared just last week.
  24. ^ Laurent, Olivier (30 May 2016). "Steve McCurry: I'm a Visual Storyteller Not a Photojournalist". Time. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  25. ^ "Kim Jung Gi". Retrieved 10 October 2022.
  26. ^ "Translating Terrors: Translating Kim Jung Gi's and Jean-David Morvan's Graphic Memorial McCurry, NYC, 9/11". 9 September 2021.
  27. ^ Davide Abbatescianni: AFM Doc ‘McCurry: The Pursuit of Color’ Explores the Art of Iconic Photographer, Variety, 3 November 2021. Retrieved 6 June 2022.
  28. ^ "Review: Masters of Photography Featuring Steve McCurry". The P oblographer. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  29. ^ "Steve McCurry" (PDF). Nanni Magazine. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  31. ^ "Steve McCurry". Phaidon. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  32. ^ "Steve McCurry. Icons – Palermo". Italy By Events. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  33. ^ "Alumni Awards". Penn State College of Arts and Architecture. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  34. ^ "STEVE MCCURRY THEATER OF PHOTOGRAPHY AND IMAGE NICE". Le Musse Prive. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  35. ^ "Steve McCurry". Pud Est 57. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  36. ^ "About Steve McCurry". World Press Photo. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  37. ^ "Steve Curry". C Photo. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  38. ^ "Steve Mccurry 2003 Honoree: Achievementment In Photojournalism". Lucie Foundation. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  39. ^ "INTERVIEW WITH Steve McCurry A LIFETIME OF WORK EXHIBITION IN BANGKOK, THAILAN". International Photography Awards. Archived from the original on 2019-02-27. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  40. ^ "Feature – Steve McCurry Wins Leica Hall of Fame AwardSteve McCurry". Magnum Photos. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  41. ^ "HIPA awards cash prize to Steve McCurry". British Journal of Photography. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  42. ^ "Middle East correspondent Michele Giorgio wins 2018 Golden Dove award". Il manifesto global. 15 November 2018.
  43. ^ "Steve McCurry". International Photography Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  44. ^ "Steve McCurry: India". Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  45. ^ "Images by Famed Photographer Steve McCurry on View at Sundaram Tagore Gallery Pop Up". Sundaram Tagore Gallery. Archived from the original on 7 August 2016. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
  46. ^ "The World through His Lens: Steve McCurry Photographs » Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute". Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  47. ^ "Exhibition. The World of Steve McCurry (extended)". Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  48. ^ "Exhibitions". Steve McCurry. Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  49. ^ "'S WANDERFUL│Making Pictures-Steve McCurry Solo Exhibition". (in Chinese). Retrieved 2018-05-05.

External links[edit]