Papua New Guinea, 2017: men in masks performing a traditional dance

Around the World in 150 Photos

Posted by Speakeasy News > Wednesday 22 December 2021 > What's On


Magnum photographer Steve McCurry may not be a household name but his photos are instantly recognisable, especially one of a young Afghan girl taken in Pakistan where her family had taken refuge in 1984. A retrospective at the Musée Maillol in Paris takes visitors around the world in his footsteps, to India, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar and Kuweit. Often travelling in war zones, McCurry captures human suffering but especially human resilience.

Sharbat Gula, at Nasir Bagh refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984

Early in McCurry’s career, he started indulging his passion for travelling and just letting fate decide where he was going. After finishing film and theatre school in Philadelphia, he set off to travel in India. He moved on to Pakistan, and met some Afghan refugees, who smuggled him into Afghanistan just as its borders were closing because of the Soviet invasion in 1979. He spent months masquerading as a member of the Mujahadeen opposition, taking photos. Then he clandestinely recrossed the border, with his films sewn into his clothes.

Mujahideen Watch a Soviet Convoy. Nuristan, Afghanistan, 1979.

This is a rare McCurry photo from a conflict zone focussing on fighters, though not regular army. Most of his images focus on the effects of conflict on civilians and the region itself.

His images were some of the first showing the tragic reality of what was going on in the country, and which is unfortunately continuing today. The 1984 image of young Sharbat Gula whichfeatured on the cover of National Geographic, came to symbolise the Afghan conflict and the plight of refugees around the world.

Joining the Magnum agency in 1986, McCurry has travelled the world covering news events but also everyday life for people in many different countries.

This shot in Kashmir of a flowerseller on a lake belies the conflict that dogs the region disputed between India and Pakistan.

Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1996

Of his beautiful photos of Indian railways, like this steam train in front of the Taj Mahal, McCurry says, "Trying to tell India's story in pictures, I spent time in its stations, watching the swirl of life each time a train pulls in. People endlessly wait, they camp out in the stations, goods and services are exchanged. Cha-wallahs ply the carriages with their wares. Cows and monkeys forage for food. The entrance halls reverberate as passengers compete for tickets-the clamor of crowds is a constant assault on the senses. I was working an magazine assignment on a train journey across South Asia and by chance was walking down the track from Agra Fort Station. India's stations are a microcosm of the country beyond. Here in the commotion of travel, you can feel the continuity between past and present."

Two men stand on teh front of the engine of a steam train in Uttar Pradesh, India, 1983, with the Taj Mahal n the background.
Uttar Pradesh, India, 1983. McCurry's photos of trains in India were one of the inspirations for File 4 Railway through India in Shine Bright 1e.

You can see a selection of Steve McCurry's photos organised by theme on his website.

The World of Steve McCurry
Musée Maillol, Paris
Till 29 May 2022
Information about school visits There's a teaching pack that could easily inspire activities in English.