Fine Art Photography Series
Steve McCurry

Portrait and War Photographer Famous for "Afghan Girl" (Sharbat Gula).

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Steve McCurry (b.1950)


Steve McCurry's Photography
Selected Exhibitions
Great Portrait Photographers

For more about the early inventions upon which McCurry's camera art is founded, see: History of Photography (c.1800-1900).

For an explanation of
photographic terms,
please see:

Art Photography Glossary.

For the leading len-based
artists and inventors, see:
Photographers: 19th-Century.

Steve McCurry's Photography

Renowned for his evocative full colour portrait art, often photographed in and around war zones, the award-winning American camera artist Steve McCurry ranks among the greatest photographers on the the world scene. A photo-journalist who focuses on the human consequences of war and insurgency, his reputation as one of the best portrait artists in the medium of humanist photography was established by his female portrait "Afghan Girl" (1984), which appeared on the front cover of National Geographic magazine. Always informative and relentlessly optimistic, his fine art photography has become a central ingredient of National Geographic from the early 1980s to the present - in forty major stories and some of its most memorable covers - as the magazine sought to outshine its rivals with the brilliance of its pictures. A member of Magnum Photos since 1986, McCurry has seen his work featured in every major magazine in the world. He has won numerous awards including "Magazine Photographer of the Year", awarded in 1984 by the National Press Photographers Association. The same year, he received four first-place awards in the World Press Photo contest. In 2002 he was named as "Photographer of the Year" by both American Photo Magazine and the PMDA (Photo-imaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association). In 2014, he won the Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal for his sustained contribution to camera art at the intersection of reportage, portraiture, and travel photography. Since 2005, he has been an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain.

For a guide to the aesthetics and artistic features of lens-based art, please see: Is Photography Art?



Born in Philadelphia, McCurry plans to study cinematography but ends up getting a BA in theatre arts (1974) from the College of Arts and Architecture at Penn State University, while taking pictures in his spare time for "The Daily Collegian" - the Penn State newspaper. He follows this with a 2-year stint on a local newspaper, before taking off for India and Pakistan as a freelance photo-journalist.

His big career break comes in 1979 when he crosses the Pakistan border into Afghanistan just before the Soviet invasion. His eye witness photographs - among the first photographic evidence of the conflict - are published in Time Magazine and numerous other newspapers and current affairs journals around the world, and become the starting point for his photographic work as well as of his affinity for the country and its culture. They also win him the "Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad" (1980), an award instituted for photographers who demonstrate exceptional courage and enterprise. (For details of its famous patron, see: Robert Capa, 1913-54.)

After this McCurry continues to deliver regular photo reports from international conflicts - including the Yugoslav civil war, the Iran-Iraq War, the Lebanese Civil War, the Cambodian Civil War and the Gulf War - while returning again and again to Afghanistan. In contrast to the more conventional photo-reports of war photographers like Larry Burrows (1926-1971), Don McCullin (b.1935) and, to a lesser extent, James Nachtwey (b.1948), McCurry's prints highlight the human cost of conflict, rather than its physical or political damage.

It is during one of his return trips to Afghanistan, in 1984, that McCurry takes his best-known photograph - "Afghan Girl" - a powerful portrait of a young girl with haunting green eyes (finally identified in 2002 as Sharbat Gula). Taken in a refugee camp near Peshawar, in December 1984, it makes the front cover image of the June 1985 edition of National Geographic, the picture becomes an icon of the decade, a regular image on Amnesty International brochures, and McCurry's unique contribution to the contemporary art of photography. It is also named as "the most recognized photograph" in the entire history of National Geographic magazine.

Selected Exhibitions

Photographs by Steve McCurry have been exhibited in some of the best galleries of contemporary art across America, including the following:

2001 Portland, Oregon (Radiant Light Gallery)
2001 Annapolis (Maryland) (Vision Workshops)
2001-2002 Daytona Beach (Florida) (Southeast Museum of Photography)
2002 Oslo (Stenerson Museum)
2002 Lisbon (Palacio dos Aciprestes)
2002 Madrid (The School of Photography)
2003 Baltimore (Levering Hall, Johns Hopkins University)
2003 Philadelphia (Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania)
2003 Rochester, New York (George Eastman House)
2003 Santa Monica (Peter Fetterman Gallery)
2004 Ottawa (Phil Woods Gallery)
2004 Boca Raton, Florida (Boca Museum of Art)
2005 San Diego (Museum of Photographic Arts)
2005 London (Asia House)
2005 Amsterdam (Fotografiemuseum)
2006 New York (United Nations Headquarter)
2006 Modena, Italy (Galleria ModenArte)
2007 Los Angeles (Fahey/Klein Gallery)
2007 Denver (Camera Work)
2008 Iserlohn, Germany (Contemporary Arts Gallery)

McCurry has published a number of books including: The Imperial Way (Boston, 1985), Monsoon (London, 1988), Portraits (London, 1999), South Southeast (London, 2000), Sanctuary (London, 2002), The Path to Buddha: A Tibetan Pilgrimage (London, 2003), Steve McCurry (2005), and Looking East (2006).

Portrait Photographers

For other renowned len-based artists best-known for their portraits, please see the following articles.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Man Ray (1890-1976)
Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)
Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002)
Norman Parkinson (1913-90)
Hans Namuth (1915-90)
Richard Avedon (1923-2004)
David Bailey (b.1938)
Annie Leibovitz (b.1949)
Cindy Sherman (b.1954)

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