Legendary photographer Steve McCurry still gets shy approaching strangers on the street


The people had been moved by that photo for decades how did you get that photo in the first place? Yeah, I was in a refugee camp one morning and I was looking I saw this one girl with this incredible look these eyes this expression. And like everything kind of melted away. People I think are more than happy to be photographed if you approach them the right way. It’s it’s a bit hard because I tend to be a bit shy so you….. -Wait your shy? Really? -Yeah -I would not have expected that from you–that you’re shy. -Steve McCurry what’s your drink? – It’s uh Cider it was hot but I made it cold. – I put a little bit of ice in it. -We’re in Greenwich Village. -New York City for people that don’t know. This is cafe Reggio. -Reggio -You love this place. – Yeah, it’s kind of like an old-world
feel to it that kind of reminds me of being in a it’s a kind of a coffee bar in Rome or Milian. -It has kind of an Italian feel. And I spent alot of time in Italy kind of feel like I’m coming back to a familiar place. -So if people don’t know this for more than forty years now –right? you’ve been traveling the world taking photos winning multiple awards and recognition. How did you become a Steve McCurry photographer? Short answer? – I think in the in the beginning I wanted to traveling when I was 19 I went to it live in Europe for a year and I decided at that time whatever I did in my life whatever kind of work I was going to do I wanted travel to be part of it right I went back to school I studied flimmaking -When you were in college you studied film making? But, I couldn’t get a job and I decided to work on a local newspapers as a photographer. – Wait. Really, you couldn’t get a job–you couldn’t get a job in film. – In Philadelphia could not get something going in film making. – It’s amazing how many people have that that story of like something failed and so they took a left turn. It sounds like that’s what you did. – Well, the thing about still photography which was so suited to my personality is it’s kind of a solitary endeavor it’s something you can walk out the door and work. And there was no script. There’s no post-production or pre-production. So I decided to go in the direction of still photography worked on that local newspaper for a couple years. I got really bored with that repetitive local news. -So you buy a one-way ticket right to India around this time. A one-way ticket Steve
that’s risky as all get-out what was the analysis like the cost benefit of okay I’m going to take this risk and I go one way to to India and see what happens. How did you make that calculation? Well, I had literally nothing to lose I had worked on the newspaper that was kind of a dead end for me. And as I said I wanted to travel. That was my real ambition was
to travel. So, I thought you know when I was in college I traveled to Africa. I
traveled on vacations to Latin America. Lived in Europe. So, one of the last places that I felt I could go to is India. At that time Russia was a bit closed China. So, I was to be closed so I like you know what have nothing to lose I’m gonna all in
I’m all in man I’m gonna -All in -I’m all in man. I’m gonna go to India and I’m just not gonna. I’m gonna just give
it my best shot and I’m not gonna give up. It was like dogged persistence. -did it work? -Well, I spent two years I didn’t come back for two years and stayed there
continually and and traveled and photographed. And kind of dug for stories
and what not and kind of at the halfway point. I just buy luck I went into Afghanistan because it’s in the neighborhood and that was like my big break. -Was this the trip where you go into what is then like rebel-held Afghanistan the Soviets had invaded yet and you sneak in. In a disguise is that right? I had a shaved my head I had a beard I
put on these kind of dirty local I like a costume. – So you look like… – I put my camera’s in a burlap bag over my shoulder. -So you looked like a local kind of -yeah I was and we literally crossed the border we walked right next to these Pakistani soldiers and not for a minute do they suspect that I was on a foreigner. I looked I just looked exactly like these Afgans. – Okay that’s a little scary though. Steve you could have— I mean a lot of things could have happened. -Yeah, well I didn’t know them I don’t know who they were they were all armed. We were going into a war zone. There was no communication, no roads, no electricity. -Do you have mom back home that going, “please don’t do that. Please don’t do that.” – They’ve given up on me a long time ago.
so what happens you get in there and you take some great shots and you would you
sell them to National Geographic? Or how did that go?
– I spent about three weeks traveling around with these rebels these mujahideen and at the end of that time I set my film back to my family and had it developed. -This is in the days for the young people when you had to develop film right? you had no idea what you have on those rolls until you take it to get developed. -We sent the film bag had developed and
we sent it to a magazine called — Geo it’s called geo and they published some of my work. And then the whole trail went dead. Nothing was going on. I went back Afghanistan and the New York
Times picked up some pictures. And then the real turning point of the story was
when the Russians invaded in later that year. And suddenly my pictures were in
demand all over the world AP, Time, Newsweek. – Cause people needed to show what was happening….. -So, suddenly my pictures were being published all over the world. And then I came back home. And literally went in the New York Times picture Department and got a standing ovation because I had been sort of supplying them pictures on a regular basis and nobody else was at that time. – Did you did you feel in that period of time like did you did you go okay this is what I’m
gonna do the rest of my life then? Oh, absolutely there was no turning back I was fully committed to this path. And I wasn’t gonna take no for an answer. I wasn’t gonna give up –just this
dogged persistence where I was going to do whatever it took to succeed. Work
crazy hours and in a way take crazy risks; which looking back I’m not sure if that was the best course, but I was working on on this war zones. -You won’t do it again? -I probably would actually Go back if you will to probably your most famous photograph. My dad subscribed to National Geographic when I was a kid. And I’m dating myself but when you’re Afghan girl photo was on the cover I feel like
I remember the edition you know on the coffee table in my house. Maybe I’m creating that memory but I’m pretty sure that you know we were
subscribing so I I remember seeing it and just and I was about her age but
people have been moved by that photo for decades. How did
you get that photo in the first place? Yeah, I was in a refugee camp one morning and I was looking around.I saw this one girl With this incredible look these eyes this
expression and like everything kind of melted away. I thought if there’s one
thing I need to do in this classroom is the photograph that girl and I stood
about photographing all of her classmates to try and set up a situation
where she would feel like well what about me? I want to be photographed
because I was worried if she didn’t agree in the beginning that it would be
hard to convince her. Maybe her made was made up. But, I thought but photograph her friends and her classmates that’ll set up a situation where she’ll feel maybe excluded and you know. So, I was able to—- and at first she had her hand sort of covering her face because she was a bit shy. But, the
teacher was able to convince her that you know people really need to see you. They need to understand the situation. Because, the Soviet Union has invaded our country and all of the villages are being destroyed. And people need to know that. Because at
that time they were like 3 million Afgans, refugees up and down the border and Iran and different places. -And that that one photo I mean how do you describe it? It it told her story in one frame.
-Well it was this sort of kind of a bit ambiguous it was kind of a mysterious expression it was—- clear that she was poor. That she had kind of dirt on her face and her shawl was ripped. But yet she has this
dignity and this sort of perseverance in this sense that you know I’m going to move forward. I’m not going to yield to this circumstance that I’m in. So you had this kinda haunted quality about the picture but yet she’s had that determination and positive look. -You’ve said that when you do photograph people you say hello first. That’s your entree is just going up to somebody Cause alot of us I think you want to take a photo of somebody. But you’re too embarrassed to walk over and say, ” Is it okay if I take a photo?” -People I think are more than happy to be
photographed if you approach them in the right way you explain what you’re doing.
It’s really people are very generous. I think my enthusiasm it becomes kind of
infectious because I’m so, “I think this is going an incredible portrait”. This person has an incredible look. And I think they sense that and they think they think okay well I’m gonna give this guy a couple minutes . -They feel important – A bit flattered and I think yeah I think 9 times out of 10 people on the street if you stop people a person on the right way though don’t agree just have it’s a bit hard because I tend to be a bit shy. -Wait you’re shy? – I have to really force myself to go up and explain -because you know we all hate rejection although I know….. – I would not have expected that from you expected that from you that you’re shy. But, I just have to literally push myself to go up and….. -You photographed the monsoon in India
for a long time I think you were there. And there’s a famous photo of a man holding a sewing machine up over his head. He’s up to here in water. You had to have been up to here in water too right? I saw him coming down the street and I immediately realized this is gonna
be an interesting picture. So, and as he was approaching me the neighbors around we’re kind of shouting to him. Oh this foreignor is gonna take your
picture. You know get ready you know and he has kind of a smile because of
all these people yelling at him. – Yeah, I know you described later that it wasn’t the cleanest water. -Oh my God, well I first thought I would work from a boat. But, that didn’t work then I thought I got some waiters and that didn’t work. I thought you know what I’m gonna have to just jump in with everybody else. And it was unimaginative There’s dead animals and all sorts of unmentionable things floating in the water I thought – you know what I just have to – And leeches right? – Leeches. yeah, I just I thought I just have to do this. have to do this I mean I don’t know I
can’t be timid I have to be bold I have to actually do whatever it takes to do
this in the best possible way so I just jumped in. Alot of people wouldn’t take not just
the risks but the you know wouldn’t jump in water filled with leeches. what is is
there something is there something in your love for your art that drives you
to do all of this? Or how do you keep going? I realized that I couldn’t do the work of the
hottest possible level in the best way if I didn’t can have fully commit to the
way to work. I just thought it you know I can’t I don’t want to be home
looking at these pictures and have regrets, that I didn’t give it my best shot
that would be worse I’d almost rather die than to feel like I had it was I
didn’t give it my best I just feel like I don’t want to have
any regret or remorse about not giving me best effort. You probably could have stopped doing this a while ago right? -A long time ago. – I don’t know financially you probably could have. – Yeah probably well I could go live on a beach somewhere in Hawaii but … – So why don’t you? oh I love my work–people say oh about retiring all this. I can’t imagine not continuing to do what I do. I’m traveling more. I’m having more fun. I
think I’m making better pictures now than I did 30 or 40 years ago. So, i mean why stop. I have number of books I’m trying to work on. I’m trying to work on. I’m just having too much fun too. Plus I have a I have a 15 month old daughter. – Are you taking her along? -Lucia has been around the world three times now. – At 15 months old ? -15 months old.we’ve been to Easter Island we’ve been to the Arctic, the Galapagos, we’ve been
to Cuba, Italy a couple two or three times. -Wow this is a whole new chapter in your life–Family Guy – Yeah no it’s it’s great we’re having a ball. My hope is that she’s going to be able to see the world. And to be able to see
the world as a friendly place. different people, different races, and different cultures as something that’s she’s comfortable with. that she’s comfortable with and familiar
with and that we wanted to speak several languages. So you know I’m trying to create a situation where she’s gonna have a great life. And hopefully I’ll give her camera and see what she can do. -This has been so interesting Steve thank you so much -Thank you -I apperciate it. -Thank you -Cheers

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