October 22, 2009

Steve McCurry


McCurry, originally uploaded by ajcarpinelli.
This photo was composed by Steve McCurry.

     This is something I don't want to write in a clever fashion, I just want to get the story out there. This is partially in response to people always asking me who he is, and partially to try and explain why it matters. I'm sorry if it doesn't make a lot of sense, I'm still a little flustered.
     First, Steve McCurry is a photographer famous for his work with National Geographic. Without getting to much into his biography, he is generally considered one of the most influential photographers ever for his 1980's National Geographic cover of the "Afghan Girl." If I could figure out how to post multiple images to a post on this, I'd post the photo. If you google "Afghan Girl" you will find it and probably recognize the photo. He's traveled the world, having adventures, taking photos, and getting paid to do it. It is what I've always wanted to do.
     Steve McCurry came to Cal U, and I got to spend almost the entire day with him. I wrote an article about it for the Cal Times, and the text is at the bottom of this post. The day itself was a good bit of a struggle, but worth it in the end.
     It was amazing to spend the day talking to one of my heroes, getting his thoughts on a lot of career based questions. I don't know how or even what to say about the experience. I will try though.
     Just a little backstory: The day started out pretty exciting. I was in the office with Jared trying to give him a crash course, with my copy of the Afghan girl National Geographic in my bag. We went to where lunch was supposed to be, and my photography mentor was there with us. Little did we know the location changed and no one told us. After we ate lunch one of the staff told us where to look, the secondary location, and she was right. If it wasn't for Jared pushing me, I wouldn't have found the real location.
     After the lunch, McCurry gave a sort-of lecture to the group. After that, I wrangled him over to a photography class and had an interview with him in front of the class. I asked the usual photography questions. This is where I got the foundation of the title for this blog from this meeting. My photography professor told a story about how she meant Ansel Adams and thought he'd smell like fixer. Then my mind made some random jumps, and eventually I got "Bathing in Fixer."
     The truly interesting part was after that, when we went to view the exhibit. I actually walked around with McCurry, and got to hear him tell me about the photographers' whose work was on display and also the photos themselves. Then came the hardest part, taking a photo of him. The final one is the one posted above. I was so nervous about getting a photo that lived up to his standards. After a few, he told me it was "really great," and I couldn't help smile. He set the shot up and told me what he wanted. The experience in general is something most people will never get. Not many people get to meet their heroes, no matter the field.

Below the line is my article for the November 13, 2009 Cal Times:
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Steven McCurry came to the California University of Pennsylvania on Oct. 22 to speak to students about his life, his work and his career. McCurry, a world-renowned photographer, is known mainly for his photo of a young, female Afghan refugee which made the cover of the June 1985 National Geographic and went on to become one of the most recognizable photos in the world.
 Most people know the “Afghan Girl” photo, even if McCurry’s name is not recognizable, even though he has spent a lifetime traveling the world, documenting people and places. He has covered seven live war zones and has even had a few near death experiences while on assignment.
McCurry’s presentation, entitled “Steve McCurry: Face to Face” involved a slide show of some of his work and was full of stories detailing what it took to get the photos he is famous for, some of which have been made into “National Geographic” covers. He also told stories about his experiences covering the attacks and aftermath of Sept. 11.
“I literally got home from Tibet the night before. I woke up the next morning, and got a call about the world trade center on fire. I looked out my window and there was smoke…. I went up on the roof to take pictures, and when the first one collapsed there was a sense of disbelief…. I grabbed my camera bag and my assistant and went down to ground zero,” said McCurry.
Just before the end of his presentation, he brought up the famous “Afghan Girl” photo and told the crowd the story of photographing her the first time, and the journey of trying to find her the second time.
 One of McCurry’s most famous stories is arguably his tale of how he got out of Afghanistan in the mid 1980’s. “[I thought] If I get stopped, they will confiscate all my exposed film. I created a bunch of dummy rolls, then the exposed film I hid on my clothing in different seams. The idea was if I got stopped, I’d give them the dummy film, that didn’t have any photos on them, and keep the good stuff,” McCurry said.
But not everything McCurry does is as dangerous as trying to get in and out of a country without permission, or escaping a plane that has crashed into a lake. However, he cites this effect, his love of excitement, for his love for photography.
“Why do anything? It [photography] suited me. I like adventure, the lack of routine,” McCurry said. “I can be called today, and offered a job tomorrow in New Zealand. Things kind of come up continually.”
After the presentation, McCurry signed posters of two of his photos for $20, the proceeds of which will help fund education in Afghanistan.
During his visit to Cal, McCurry also stopped by the gallery in the Manderino Library to visit the traveling Smithsonian exhibit, “In Focus: National Geographic’s Greatest Portraits,” which includes a print of “The Afghan Girl” and will be on display until Nov. 11. Gallery hours can be found on the library’s website and admission is free.
McCurry grew up in Pennsylvania, and is a graduate of Penn State where he worked on the college newspaper. He now lives in New York, but maintains a studio in Philadelphia along with his studio in New York City.
McCurry’s photoblog can be found at stevemccurry.wordpress.com

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