|Steve McCurry - Holi Man. Rajasthan, India 1996, color photograph|
It was well worth the trip. McCurry is a supremely talented photographer who creates beautiful and compelling color images, often choosing them for their storytelling qualities. The show, entitled The World Through His Lens and comprising 60 pictures from three decades, will hang through Dec. 31. I urge you to find time to go see it, especially if you are interested in this sort of thing, but also if you are a human being, as this work speaks directly to the human condition that we all share.
|Terry Slade - Mantra for the Survival of the Earth, fused glass|
Now for the shop talk: Photography is a curious medium - since its invention in the mid-19th century, arguments have percolated, even raged, as to whether or not it is an art form, and whether or not it is truthful. Well over 150 years later, these arguments have not been settled, and McCurry's work is a good example of why that is.
|Kashmir Flower Seller. Dal Lake, Srinigar, Kashmir 1996|
The "for what" part I can easily answer - with this show (which I assume will be touring in some form) McCurry is seeking to leap from the pages of National Geographic to establish himself in the art realm. Other photojournalists have tried the same thing - notably W. Eugene Smith and Sebastiao Salgado (both of whom worked exclusively in black and white) - but it is a tricky leap to make.
|Woman at a Horse Festival. Tagong, Tibet 1999|
I question whether it is possible for McCurry to present pictures taken initially as documents (and, indeed, published as such), and then change his intention after the fact to offer them as art. Call me a purist (or whatever else you want to call me), but I don't think there is a way to "bridge the gap" between disciplines with such distinctly different purposes.
|Sharbat Gula, Afghan Girl. Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984|
So, when McCurry's most famous picture, which is a studio-style portrait of an Afghan refugee, was published on the cover of the National Geographic, it was journalism and should not have been manipulated (follow this link to learn details of how it was altered in that instance). Now, offered as the centerpiece to this museum show, with the subject's eyes brightened and the background color apparently changed to enhance them, it is the work of an artist and perfectly legitimate as such.
|Monks Pray at Golden Rock. Kyaikto, Burma, 1994|
But he is more interested in the world and our place in it; he is also very interested in our interior life, as expressed through his ongoing pursuit of Buddhist subject matter (Eastern monks, nuns, and holy sites are well represented here), and in a lovely and sensitive series of pictures of people reading.
Through this last body of work, we have the opportunity to become engaged with McCurry himself, and less distracted by the exoticism of his favored subjects. If my sense is correct, and McCurry has become primarily an artist, then he is moving in the right direction.
|Mahout Reads with his Elephant. Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2010|