Steve McCurry from the international photography collective Magnum Photos, the photographer behind the iconic “Afghan Girl” portrait, has played a significant role in contemporary photography for more than four decades. Through his lens, McCurry has documented world conflicts, vanishing cultures, ancient traditions and modern society in an expressive, personal way. From the bustling streets of India to active warzones in Afghanistan, McCurry’s photographs have always been more than mere images — they are windows into the human experience.
His photography, which has traversed continents and cultures, is now available for The Frame, Samsung’s lifestyle TV. Through Samsung Art Store, his visual narratives find a place in homes around the world.
Samsung Newsroom sat down with McCurry to talk about his inspiration and how technology can immortalize the stories told through his photography.
Finding Universality Through a Camera Lens
Q: Do you have any significant moments or experiences that have influenced how you approach your work as a photographer?
I have always had a desire to travel and push boundaries. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University and working at a newspaper for two years, I bought a one-way ticket to India with the money I had saved. I spent two years traveling throughout India and Nepal, photographing for a variety of magazines.
In the spring of 1979, I stayed at a small hotel in Chitral, Pakistan — where I met some Afghan refugees from Nuristan who explained that many of the villages in their area had been destroyed. I told them I was a photographer, and they insisted that I come and capture the civil war. I had never photographed an area of conflict before and wasn’t sure how to react.
After a few days, I walked with them over the mountains into Afghanistan and spent nearly three weeks photographing life there. I was astonished to see so many villages that had been virtually destroyed and abandoned. The roads were all blocked or under government control, so we had to walk everywhere. During this time, I met some people who I became close to.
I was touched by the culture and beauty of the country. It was a different way of life with no modern conveniences, and I was drawn to the simplicity of that lifestyle. Everything was reduced to the basics — and that has made me return to Afghanistan time and time again.
Q: You are well known for capturing raw emotions and intimate moments. How do you establish trust with your subjects, especially in culturally diverse settings?
In my experience, most people are approachable. I find that once you explain what you are doing and how you can bring them into your process, people will open up and let you take their pictures.
My photographs are how I observe the world and my surroundings. For me, the goal is to find some sort of universality among people across a huge variety of conditions. If I am successful, my artwork should be universally understood by anyone who has experienced the human condition, regardless of their circumstances.
Q: Among your photographs, do you have a favorite?
I took one of my favorite pictures when I was in an old part of Rajasthan, India. The whole city is painted in a wonderful blue color. I came across a corner and discovered children had left handprints on the wall during a festival. I thought, “What a great picture it would be if I could get people walking in or out of the frame.” After standing for about two hours, one little boy dashed through, and I caught him mid-stride. I was — and still am — happy with the picture.
From Lens to Living Room
Q: How have users reacted to your work on The Frame this year?
The response has been excellent. Users are excited to have such a wide range of artwork available on The Frame to keep their home interiors fresh.
The Frame allows users to discover and appreciate new artists and artwork. It is amusing to see my work alongside classic masterpieces by Van Gogh and da Vinci, as well as many other up-and-coming artists.
Q: Does displaying your art on The Frame differ from displaying your art in museums and galleries?
The Frame allows users to transform their television into a dynamic art display. They can exhibit images in their home that they may not be able to see in person at museums. Although nothing beats seeing artwork in person, The Frame is a great way to experience art from the comfort of your own home.
Q: What pieces would you recommend users display on The Frame? Please give us a brief explanation of each.
For centuries in Tibet, prayer flags embellished with sacred writings have been hung with the belief that goodwill and compassion will be spread to all living beings as the wind passes over them.
I spent two weeks with flower vendors as they plied their wares along the shores of Dal Lake in Kashmir, India. The act of buying and gifting flowers is deeply embedded in the region’s traditions and integral to the aesthetic and economy. Their shikaris,1 filled with blooms, offered a deep sense of tranquility and provided a welcome contrast to the hustle and bustle of the surrounding town.
Photography in the Digital Age
Q: Could you describe if and how technology has changed how you work over the years?
I worked exclusively with film for most of my career, but I have fully embraced digital technology these days. While it hasn’t changed the way I see my work or the way I photograph, technology has undoubtedly altered the process — allowing me to work in much lower light and more complex situations than I could in the past. Nonetheless, the same truths apply to any image regardless of the technique that went into crafting it. There’s impermanence about all things and nostalgia about things in the past — but I prefer to look to the future.
Q: How does the digital format of The Frame compare to other platforms where you have shared your work, such as galleries, museums or even magazine covers?
Each medium has its advantages. Digital art is virtually permanent, and exposure to heat and light doesn’t affect color — but the medium can be a matter of personal preference. Many museums are supplementing their exhibitions with multi-media presentations, merging different formats. It will be interesting to see what the future holds since technology is evolving every day.
The Frame is a wonderful way to see pictures in a more intimate home setting. I remember getting off a plane and seeing one of my pictures on a huge screen at JFK Airport in New York. It was surreal to see my work enjoyed by thousands of people passing through the terminal. Similarly, The Frame allows people to view art more comfortably — adding a new dimension to the experience.
Q: In this digital age where most people use their phones as cameras, how do you see the role of professional photographers evolving?
The medium, platform or technology — whether it’s Instagram, digital or film — is not important. Successful photography has to be about telling stories and being creative, having your own interpretation and voice to say what is important to you and conveying those emotions through your photographs.
Q: What is next for you in the coming year?
I will soon be traveling to Antarctica and working on a new book of short stories.
Visit the Samsung Art Store in The Frame to see more of Steve McCurry’s work.
1 (In Kashmir) A light, flat-bottomed houseboat.