The legendary Steve McCurry on Asia, travel photography and going digital
Steve McCurry's portrait of the Afghan girl in 1984 is regarded as the most recognized photograph in the history of National Geographic magazine. He's spent 30 years photographing and documenting the entire world. And he loves Asia.
The award-winning photojournalist was in Singapore for his first solo photo exhibition in Southeast Asia, 'Unguarded Moment’ which was sponsored by Epson Singapore. We get his views on Asia, travel photography and why he’ll never stop coming back here.
CNNGo: What is it about Asia that fascinates you?
Steve McCurry: Asia is such a rich and unique part of the world. There’s so much rich culture compressed into an amazing range of geography. It’s the birthplace of Buddhism and Hinduism, and from place to place there’s such great diversity that it’s never boring. I’ve shot all over the world, including Afghanistan, Peru, Pakistan, Africa -- and I always find myself coming back here.
CNNGo: So which parts of Asia are your favorites?
Steve McCurry: I always enjoy going to Japan -- the sense of design and clean lines is something that’s not found anywhere else. I admire the Japanese sense of simplicity, and the people and culture there are so different from the rest of Asia. India is another great country for photography. The tones and colors are just out of this world. Myanmar and Cambodia also come to mind, with the chaos and confusion. This is where I do my best work.
CNNGo: Share with us your tips for travel photography in Asia.
Steve McCurry: Visually, Asia is so rich that you can never have enough film or memory cards, so make sure you always bring enough to back up your shots. Asia is also one of the safest places to shoot as compared to many other places in South America and Europe, and it’s still alright to carry your camera in most parts of Asia. You could walk around New Delhi, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and not worry about personal safety. I’m also fairly comfortable photographing people in Asia, who are still curious enough to make great subjects.
CNNGo: Digital technology -- Bane or boon for you?
Steve McCurry: Oh, digital has definitely changed the way I work and photograph. I shoot almost completely digital now. The good thing about digital is that you can review your shot on the spot, upload it and email to anyone across the world in a few seconds -- in fact, I just sent someone some images a few minutes ago. Digital is also great for low light situations, and it’s something you can’t match with film. However, it’s still the skill and eye for composition that still remains the same. It’s not about your camera but how you use it and deal with your surrounding. Digital has also been great for printing as well. It used to be a long, tedious process to get your film developed and printed, but now it can be done at home with a lot more control.
CNNGo: How challenging is it to shoot someone in the streets if you don’t know the language?
Steve McCurry: When I go to a new country where I don't know the language, I usually travel with a translator. Even then, when I bump into someone on the streets and there’s something about him or her that grabs me in the guts, I approach that person and almost plead with them non-verbally that this is something I have to shoot. It’s surprising what 15 seconds of body language can communicate to someone you don’t know -- when they can sense that your intentions are honorable, you can find that one connection and appeal to their nature.