Steve Schapiro - American Edge

A Multimedia Presentation of
The Digital Journalist

Exerpted from "South Southeast"
Published by Phaidon Press
Photographs by Steve McCurry

Introduction by Dirck Halstead

When I first became a Time Magazine contract photographer in the early 1970s, the average time I spent on a story was six weeks. These were big stories: Defense, The Navy, The New Beauties, The New Cities. In those days, the only real competition for the Magazine Photographer of the Year award came from the photographers at National Geographic Magazine.

The concept of a six-week assignment for any magazine just doesn't work anymore. Photographers have become used to squeezing difficult and heart-felt coverage into small blocks of time, and money, that the bean counters will approve.

One of the rare exceptions to this way of thinking and working is practiced by a guy who still marches to his own music, at his own pace. His name is Steve McCurry.

For more than 20 years he has dominated a whole area of magazine photojournalism. In the year he won Magazine Photographer of The Year, given by the National Press Photographer's Association, he also garnered an unprecedented four first prize awards in the World Press Photo Contest. In his career, he has survived a plane crash at sea, a beating and near drowning in India by zealous crowds at a religious festival, and was nearly killed by a rival Mujahadeen faction. He was reported killed twice.

McCurry has assembled a prodigious body of work, with four books and countless international exhibitions.

At a time when most photojournalists are struggling just to get the next assignment, McCurry feels that the stories he is offered today are better than ever before. Because he hates the cold, he arranges to spend most of the U.S. winter in some far-flung, warmer place. His passion has been Southeast Asia and the subcontinent. These are the places he goes to find the kind of subdued, rich light he so loves.

"My favorite light is found on an overcast day. On a sunny day people's eyes squint. I love the monsoon, a dark and rainy afternoon," he says.

In 1984, in an Afghan refugee village, he saw a young girl sitting in a classroom. "She had such intense eyes, there was something really haunting about her. The color scheme of the shawl and the tent were compelling." The photograph would go on to become an icon. First published on the cover of National Geographic, then on dozens of other magazines around the world.

McCurry grew up in suburban Philadelphia, and worked on local newspapers there. In 1980, he decided it was time for him to take a crack at international photojournalism. He disguised himself in native garb and crossed the Pakistan border into rebel-controlled Afghanistan, just before the Russian invasion. When he emerge with his film sewn into his clothes, his coverage, first published by Time, won the Robert Capa Award for Best Photographic Coverage from Abroad, an award dedicated to photographers displaying exceptional courage and enterprise.

His work in Southeast Asia and the subcontinent is in a class by itself. McCurry says, "When you work here, it's like going back in time. It's like going back to the bible from the way people look and dress...India fascinates me, because it is like the dark side of the different from where I grew up." If Steve McCurry has led a lucky life, we are all the luckier for it.

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Real Video Interview with Steve McCurry

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