Steve McCurry: Interview with the man behind Afghan Girl
What’s On has a Steve McCurry interview (Afghan Girl photographer). His 7 Princesses exhibit is at Dubai art gallery Empty Quarter, DIFC.
World renowned photographer Steve McCurry is most famous for his iconic image Afghan Girl, which he took in a Pakistan refugee camp in 1984. In April he’s exhibiting his series of photos of UAE women in Dubai, entitled 7 Princesses.
What was your aim with these photographs? It was a way to celebrate women and the UAE. Women here are not visible the way they are in other countries. Part of the objective was to show the location too. In some case the location dominates the picture, the woman in the mountains especially. She’s small in the picture, but the landscape is incredible.
How did you find photographing the women? They volunteered and were very cooperative. They were cool women, very personable and friendly. These are women who are doing interesting things. They speak their mind. They are forceful.
How long do you need to take a portrait? You can do a wonderful portrait in 30 minutes or less sometimes, but when you’re working with certain light it can take longer. Each photo here took about three hours. We worked from 3pm to sunset because we had to wait for the light to get soft.
How do you make your subject comfortable? I try to make it seem natural and ordinary and matter of fact. Putting them at ease can take a few minutes. A lot of it is the psychology of working with people. If I’m not comfortable then I can’t make the person at ease and it will show in the picture. It will look stilted or awkward, there’ll be a tension in the shot.
You started taking photographs in 1972. What was your first professional job? I worked on a college newspaper in Pennsylvania, and it was a thrill to see my pictures in print. I quit that job to go travelling in 1978. I didn’t have any money and went to Nepal, Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. I was finding my way, trying to figure out how I could do this and pay the rent. In time I developed my craft, my sense of timing, my eye.
The Afghan Girl photo you took in 1984 – do you get tired of talking about it? I’m happy to talk about it. But when you’re asked the same question thousands of times, you think: Again? But people like the photo so thank goodness for that.
With cell phone cameras, it seems everyone is a photographer these days – is that good or bad? I think it’s a great thing. People with cell phone cameras can do great work but they don’t because it doesn’t interest them. They take photos of their lunch or their friend, but nobody cares about it. It has meaning to that person but not to anybody else. At any moment anybody can sit down with pencil and paper and write a great song. But they don’t.
What do you want to photograph next? I’m trying to go to Iran, but I’m having visa problems.
Do you still get get excited about taking photographs? Of course. From a financial point of view I could have retired 15 years ago and never work again. But, for me, photography is a pleasure, like eating, sleeping, swimming. It’s like breathing for me, It’s what I do. It gives life purpose and meaning. It’s a meditation. A calmness. It’s my whole life: wandering around, photographing, and enjoying being alive.
Until April 16
The Empty Quarter, Gate Village, DIFC, Dubai, Sun to Thur, 10am to 7pm, free. Tel: (04) 3231210. Taxi: Gate Village, DIFC. theemptyquarter.com