A Chance Encounter: Steve McCurry in Rajasthan

The Thar Desert is the most densely populated desert in the world and the people who live there are accustomed to the extreme conditions. Travelling by taxi through the desert to Jaisalmer, near the India-Pakistan border, McCurry found himself in a huge dust storm. The rains had failed in the area for the past thirteen years but dust storms tended to signify the onset of a monsoon. McCurry wanted to record the anticipation in advance of the monsoon but became disappointed when the winds grew so strong that the dust formed a thick fog.

As he continued on his journey through the dust storm, McCurry suddenly spotted a group of women by the side of the road, he asked the car to stop and photographed the scene. The women in the photograph had been forced to take up manual labour when the crops failed. “They clustered together to shield themselves from the sand and the dust”, he remembers, “singing and praying and barely able to stand.” The arresting image of the brightly dressed group shielding themselves from the elements is typical of McCurry’s urge to photograph communities living and working in the most inhospitable environments in the world. A striking and beautiful image, this chance encounter serves as a reminder that, as McCurry himself has said, “You can’t be hung up on what you think your ‘real’ destination is. The journey is just as important.”

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