By Alix Norman
Perhaps the most recognised photograph in the world, 'Afghan Girl' was the iconic cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic. Who – either at the time, or almost 30 years on – could fail to be electrified by the breathtaking clarity of those eyes, or the haunting expression that spoke to the soul? I consider myself amongst the lucky few who actually still possess the issue that made the girl – 12-year-old Sharbat Gula – a household image and, even to this day, the photograph continues to have the power to move me. But history in the making is simply the product, it seems, of a truly unique artistic talent behind the lens. And Steve McCurry, photographer extraordinaire, has always been exactly that: a unique talent.
Earlier this year, this striking image was part of a portrait exhibition at the Loukia and Michael Zampelas Art Museum – an exhibition which amassed an audience from all corners of the island. Famed for his portraiture, McCurry is a man whose fascination lies with the human aspect of life: "Most of my images are grounded in people," he says. "I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person's face. I try to convey what it is like to be that person, a person caught in a broader landscape, that you could call the human condition."
However, in the process of travelling to some of the most war torn areas of the world, McCurry has also turned his lens to the unique landscapes which so often accompany these desolate destinations. And it's these resulting photos which will be the subject of another exhibition – also at the Zampelas Art Museum – of the artist's work, due to open this Tuesday under the title Steve McCurry on Landscapes.
From the sweeping seas that surround the Philippines – and the three fisherman who, battered by the elements, perch delicately atop their poles – to the grasslands of India (where a boy leans, reading, against an elephant, caught in the act of turning a page); from the mesmerizing image of a child (snapped mid-flight as he leaps down a brightly painted alley) to the group of women huddled against the backdrop of a bitter dust storm – their scarlet saris a colourful counterpoint to the harsh, monochromatic wasteland – McCurry has always imbued each of his landscapes with a very human element.
Travelling the world with camera in hand this artist's career really began when, disguised in native garb, he crossed the Pakistan border into rebel-controlled areas of Afghanistan just before the Soviet invasion. Emerging with the precious rolls of film sewn into his clothing, the images – which quickly went global – were among the first to portray the realities of the conflict. It takes a certain type of character, no doubt, to risk life and limb to document the hazardous situation of the time, but the results make very clear the fact that McCurry is an artist of the school of humanity.
Focusing on the human consequences of war, showing not merely what war impresses on the landscape, but also on the faces of its sufferers, it's par for the course that McCurry has – through the medium of his work – inspired other artists – most notably being portrayed in TV documentary The Face of the Human Condition by award-winning French filmmaker Denis Delestrac. It's a title which well describes this most accessible of photographers and his images of a world – be it the remotest corners of the globe or the strangest and most exotic of civilisations – most of us will never see in reality.
His continued portrayal of armed conflicts – including the Iran-Iraq War, Lebanon Civil War, the Cambodian Civil War, the Islamic insurgency in the Philippines, the Gulf War and theAfghan Civil War – has garnered McCurry a host of awards over the years. Named Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association, he has also won an unprecedented four first-place prizes in the World Press Photo contest in the space of one year. A member of the prestigious Magnum Photos since 1986, the photographer remains a frequent contributor to the publication which launched a stellar career: National Geographic. And while many of the photographs in the exhibition may well be familiar to viewers from the pages of the magazine, there can simply be no comparison to actually seeing these stunning images in real life. Steve McCurry on Landscapes – it's truly photography without compare.
Steve McCurry on Landscapesat Loukia& Michael Zampelas Art Museum opens at 8pm from August 5 and runs until September 30 (please note the museum will be closed between August 8 and 22). For further information, contact the gallery on 22 456098, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.zampelasart.com
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