Being able to travel the world and explore exotic locales, interacting with a diversity of people and cultures, seems to be at the root of McCurry’s motivation. The camera is the vehicle that has allowed him to lead such an enriching life, and his appreciative approach is one from which he suggests many photographers could benefit.
“I think what keeps you motivated and keeps you going,” he says, “what sustains you… The idea is to enjoy your life, to be fascinated, to be curious, to experience the world and learn. To have it be all these things.”
The Importance Of Color
Looking at The Unguarded Moment, it’s clear that color is important in Steve McCurry’s work. Just how important, though, is up for debate. “Like Cartier-Bresson in color,” is how he describes it, assuming that color was at the forefront of his photographic approach.
“I never really think of color when I’m working,” McCurry clarifies. “That’s not my primary interest. Often, I don’t think too much about the use of color other than trying to avoid a color palette that may be distracting or garish. Of course, I notice colors and how they fit together, but I don’t really consciously go out to make color photographs. Obviously, there are times when you’re confronted with a situation that has a strong color component and, of course, you work with that, but it’s not my main motivation. There’s something I’m trying to distill down to, some essence. I’m trying to get a certain balance that’s not about the color.”
Though his work isn’t about color, McCurry doesn’t ignore it. In fact, he seeks situations with particular tonalities and he deals with them deliberately—as long as the image doesn’t become about color.
“When you’re cruising around, you can’t control what colors are out there,” he says, “but you can control what you photograph. For me, color photography works best in muted, soft-lighting situations with low contrast. I gravitate toward low-light situations. Dark, cloudy days are my favorite situation to shoot in. I get the best results from muted, low-contrast, even light. My eyes are extremely sensitive to light anyway, and with or without a camera, I don’t really enjoy walking around on a bright, sunny day. I much prefer, even without a camera, a cloudy day.
“It was the vibrant color of Asia that taught me to write in light,” McCurry adds. “Still, color alone, or structure for structure’s sake, are not, for me, what finally make a good picture. What makes a powerful image—much like Asia itself—is the confluence of all these elements. More than 20 years later, I still keep shooting in Asia because the place—like the light and the belief that powers life—is inexhaustible.”
Nikon D3X with 28-70mm zoom, and prime 28mm, 35mm and 50mm lenses