Steve McCurry made his name by smuggling rolls of film sewn into his clothes from rebel-controlled Afghanistan, right before the Soviet invasion. He reflects on a remarkable career as his new book, on the communities behind the coffee industry, goes on sale.
“It’s like a performing art, photography. You don’t want to be encumbered, you have to be agile and be able to move,” says Steve McCurry.
There’s more than a touch of wanderlust about the 65-year-old from Darby, Pennsylvania. Having photographed for over 40 years across many more countries, McCurry’s images are instantly recognisable, even to the uninitiated.
McCurry might be a photography grandee, but the impulse that made him capture Indian monsoons waist-deep in murky rain water wearing just a shirt and slack, or to smuggle into Afghanistan disguised as a local tribesman, continues to persist.
This independent streak perhaps goes some way towards explaining why McCurry, once a cinematography and history student, ended up preferring the single frame to 24 of them a second.
“I think it was being able to explore,” he says of photography. “Film is more of a team effort; you need a cameraman, a sound man, perhaps a lighting person. You need to set everything up. Photography felt more immediate, more serendipitous; searching for the little moments on the street.”