24 February – 19 March 2016
Showing a cross-section of works from his long career, the exhibition is an opportunity to view McCurry’s most iconic images. Having travelled the globe for over thirty years, McCurry is a veteran photojournalist who has photographed warzones, burning oil fields, refugee camps, ship breaking yards and monsoons all over the globe.
McCurry was born in 1950 and grew up in Philadelphia. During a gap year, he spent several months in Stockholm, Amsterdam and the Middle East before going to the College of Arts and Architecture at Pennsylvania State University to study filmmaking. Whilst studying he started taking photographs for the college newspaper. After graduating he worked for a local newspaper but was quickly taken by the urge to travel. He made his first of countless trips to India in 1978 and immediately fell in love with the subcontinent. In 1979 the Soviet-Afghan War broke out and Western journalists were banned from Afghanistan. McCurry crossed the border into the country from Pakistan, disguised in native garb. Travelling with local militia fighters, known as the mujahideen, he documented the human cost of the Afghan-Soviet War. Smuggling his rolls of film out of Afghanistan by sewing them into his clothes, McCurry photographed the mujahideen in armed combat and on the move across the country. His photographs of the conflict were published in The New York Times and Time magazine. They were some of the first images of the conflict to emerge from the country and won him the Robert Capa Gold Medal for the Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad.
Over the next three decades McCurry travelled the world, seeking the most spectacular places from which to report picture stories. He has undertaken extended projects in Afghanistan, Tibet and India but the subject of each photograph holds its own significance for him. As he has said, “what is important to my work is the individual picture. I photograph stories on assignment, and of course they have to be put together coherently. But what matters most is that each picture stands on its own, with its own place and feeling.” He has reported on a vast number of international and civil conflicts including the Iran-Iraq War, the Lebanon Civil War, the Cambodian Civil War, the Gulf War and the Afghan Civil War. Instead of photographing combat, McCurry tends to focus on the human cost of political and social issues, often producing arresting portraits and figure studies.
A highlight of the exhibition is McCurry’s most well known portrait, known as the Afghan Girl, which became one of the most iconic images of the twentieth century after it was featured as cover of National Geographic magazine. In 1984 McCurry was approached by the magazine to photograph the refugee camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border. In the Nasir Bagh camp, McCurry recalls: “I spotted this young girl, whose name I learned years later was Sharbat Gula. She had an intense, haunted look, a really penetrating gaze ? and yet she was only about twelve years old. She was very shy, and I thought if I photographed other children first she would be more likely to agree because at some point she wouldn’t want to be left out. I guess she was as curious about me as I was about her, because she had never been photographed and had probably never seen a camera. After a few moments she got up and walked away, but for an instant everything was right ? the light, the background, the expression in her eyes.” The photograph shot McCurry to international acclaim and has become the human face of conflict in the Middle East. However, the famous image was not originally chosen for publication. Another showing the young girl covering her lower face with her shawl was picked by McCurry, but the magazine’s editor, Bill Garett, reviewed the ?seconds’ from McCurry’s shots and decided that the now-famous image should be used for the magazine’s cover. Both images will be on display in the exhibition.
Other highlights include dramatic photographs of fishermen using stilts to catch fish in Weligama, Sri Lanka, and camels in search of water, silhouetted against Kuwait’s burning landscape during the Gulf War. A selection of McCurry’s extensive work in India and Tibet will also be on display. McCurry’s coverage of the September 11th 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre, New York, which has become a key document of the terrorist attacks, will also feature.