Reviews

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs by Todd Henson

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 Limited edition of  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs , along with its slipcase.

Limited edition of Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs, along with its slipcase.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs is an absolutely stunning collection of photographs by a photographer who has created a number of images that I would certainly consider iconic. He is probably best known for his photograph of an Afghan Girl, created in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1984. I remember when this graced the cover of National Geographic. I, as so many others, was immediately taken in by her piercing green eyes, and the green and red contrasts between her eyes, her clothing, and the background.

  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Afghan Girl, Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Afghan Girl, Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984.

Many of Steve McCurry’s most striking photographs are posed portraits of people. He does such a great job of conveying emotion in his portraits, of really bringing the people to life. Examples of this are his portrait of a Woman With Coral Earrings, created in Lhasa, Tibet in 2000, and of his portrait of a young Pilgrim at Kumbh Mela, created in Haridwar, India in 1998.

  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Woman With Coral Earrings, Lhasa, Tibet, 2000. Pilgrim at Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, India, 1998.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Woman With Coral Earrings, Lhasa, Tibet, 2000. Pilgrim at Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, India, 1998.

But McCurry is also a master of photographing street scenes of people going about their daily lives. There are stories in his photographs, as seen in Boy in Mid-Flight, created in Johdpur, India in 2007. Where is this boy running to? What is around the corner? I love the composition and the color contrasts.

  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Boy in Mid-Flight, Jodhpur, India, 2007.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Boy in Mid-Flight, Jodhpur, India, 2007.

In one photograph we see people walking down the flooded streets of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, India, while a street vendor tries to keep his goods dry. In another people walk down train tracks in Bangladesh. The folks on the train tracks all have similar colored clothing, but the person walking in the grass stands out for his more colorful shirt contrasted against the green grass and the blue storm clouds in the sky. We see school girls in Sri Lanka seemingly transfixed by their teacher. And we see dancers at Preach Khan in Angkor, Cambodia, wearing their colorful outfits of gold and red.

  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India, 1983. Train Track, Bangladesh, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India, 1983. Train Track, Bangladesh, 1983.

  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Schoolgirls, Kegalle, Sri Lanka, 1995. Dancers at Preah Khan, Angkor, Cambodia, 2000.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Schoolgirls, Kegalle, Sri Lanka, 1995. Dancers at Preah Khan, Angkor, Cambodia, 2000.

As these sample images show, most of Steve McCurry’s images involve people, sometimes in portraits, sometimes busy going about their lives oblivious to the camera, other times in their environment but fully aware of the camera. In each photograph we get a short glimpse into one of the stories of their life, a brief but telling moment in time. Maybe it is a girl in her flooded front yard. Or a girl cooking in her home, with beams of light shining down from nearby windows. Or a man reading a newspaper while waiting for a train, shadows stretching across the ground. In each case we’re drawn into their world. It’s no wonder McCurry was such a frequent contributor to National Geographic.

  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . A Girl in Her Front Yard, Bojonegoro, Java, Indonesia, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. A Girl in Her Front Yard, Bojonegoro, Java, Indonesia, 1983.

  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Girl Cooking, Uttarakhand, India, 2009.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Girl Cooking, Uttarakhand, India, 2009.

  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Train Station Platform, Old Delhi, India, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Train Station Platform, Old Delhi, India, 1983.

I was fortunate to purchase the limited edition version of Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs, when it first came out from Phaidon Press. It is far and away the largest photography book I own, measuring about 15 x 20 inches. As seen in the samples it is a portrait format book, being taller than it is wide. This works perfectly for the portraits, displaying a single photograph on a page. It does mean, though, that landscape photographs span two pages.

  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Shikaras on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1999.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Shikaras on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1999.

  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Stilt Fishermen, Weligama, Sri Lanka, 1995.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Stilt Fishermen, Weligama, Sri Lanka, 1995.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs was republished in 2012 in a smaller, more affordable format, measuring about 11 x 15 inches, which I still consider a large format book. It is 272 pages in length and contains 164 photographs McCurry created between 1980 and 2009. The photographs stand on their own without any text to distract from them. In the back of the book are several pages with a small bit of info about each photograph.

I highly recommend this book. I think it’s a fantastic collection of Steve McCurry’s photographs, possibly the best out there. It would be a great addition to the library of any Steve McCurry fan, and would also be a fantastic introduction to his work.


Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography by Todd Henson

 Cover of  Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography

Cover of Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography

The Aperture Foundation created their Masters of Photography series of books to showcase the works of photographers who have “shaped the medium,” those “whose achievements have accorded them vital importance in the history of the art form.” The fifth book in the series is about Dorothea Lange.

 Page 21: Child and Her Mother (1939)

Page 21: Child and Her Mother (1939)

Dorothea Lange (1895 - 1965) photographed throughout the Great Depression, working at one point for the California State Emergency Relief Administration. Most of her well known photographs were created while working for the Farm Security Administration between 1935 - 1942. Later she would photograph for Life magazine and teach at what became the San Francisco Art Institute.

 Page 51: Church on the Great Plains (1938)

Page 51: Church on the Great Plains (1938)

Lange was known as a documentary photographer but disliked that label, even though she never found a better description. Edward Steichen once called her the greatest documentary photographer in the United States. She was not one to spend a lot of time processing images, but chose to portray the world as accurately and plainly as possible. She said she photographed “things as they are.”

“The important thing is not what’s photographed but how.” - Dorothea Lange

 Page 39: Migrant Mother (1936)

Page 39: Migrant Mother (1936)

She managed to join that select group of photographers who have created images that became iconic in their popularity, power, and importance. Perhaps her most famous photograph is ‘Migrant Mother,’ created in 1936, in the latter years of the Great Depression. Even without any history or context it is a powerfully moving photograph. But placing it in context brings a piece of history to life, helping students better understand how that period of time affected many of the people of this country.

 Page 75: Drought Farmers (1936)

Page 75: Drought Farmers (1936)

“At her most potent, Lange astounds with an ability to arouse deep feelings about our commonality with others.” - Christopher Cox

 Page 79: Dairy Co-op Officials (1935)

Page 79: Dairy Co-op Officials (1935)

Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography is a small book. The copy I own measures about 8” x 8”. It is 96 pages in length, containing 42 of Lange’s photographs, an excellent essay by Christopher Cox that talks about her life and career, a list of details about each of the photographs, a small list of her exhibitions, a brief chronology, and a small selected bibliography. This is by no means a complete catalog of her work, but it is an excellent introduction to some of her best work and I’m very happy to own a copy.

 Page 91: Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town (1938)

Page 91: Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town (1938)

The edition I own is from 1987. Aperture republished the book in 2014.


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Sanctuary. Steve McCurry: The Temples of Angkor by Todd Henson

 Front cover of  Sanctuary. Steve McCurry: The Temples of Angkor

Front cover of Sanctuary. Steve McCurry: The Temples of Angkor

If you grew up reading National Geographic, as I did, then you may be familiar with Steve McCurry, or at least have seen some of his photography. Many of his images have graced the cover over the years.

In his book Sanctuary we have the opportunity to view a collection of McCurry’s photographs of the temples of Angkor, in Cambodia. Angkor Wat is likely the most famous of these temples, but the Angkor region is home to hundreds of temples, some of which may have been built from parts of previous temples.

 Pages 18-19. Buddhist monks among the temples.

Pages 18-19. Buddhist monks among the temples.

The book begins with a great essay by John Guy titled The Temples of Angkor. Guy provides some history of the region, its people, politics, culture and architecture. It’s interesting how the cultures and religions of the region changed over time and how this affected the character of the temples. There is evidence of animism, ancestral spirit worship, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The majority of the temples are Hindu. Today the region is visited by both tourists and Buddhist pilgrims.

 Pages 48-49. People worshiping and studying.

Pages 48-49. People worshiping and studying.

The photography covers a range of subjects. Many are of the temples, some showing the vastness of these structures, others showing people, often Buddhist monks, among the ruins. I’m really drawn to the color contrast of the orange Buddhist robes set against the grays and browns of the stonework.

Two sections of the book include detail shots of statues and carvings among the temples. These are printed on a textured cream toned paper, whereas the majority of the photographs are printed on a more standard white paper.

 Pages 34-35. Detail shots.

Pages 34-35. Detail shots.

 Pages 84-85. Detail shots.

Pages 84-85. Detail shots.

Further into the book we see more photographs of people than of the structures. There are people worshiping, washing, resting, learning, and just going about their daily activities. These images provide a small window into some of the current culture of that region.

 Pages 54-55. Portrait of a Buddhist monk.

Pages 54-55. Portrait of a Buddhist monk.

The version of the book I own is hardcover with 120 pages measuring approximately 7.5 x 10.5 inches. There is also a softcover edition. The book was published by Phaidon Press.

 Pages 108-109. Photos of people, vendors and tourists.

Pages 108-109. Photos of people, vendors and tourists.

I love these photographs and would enjoy seeing them in a larger format. But larger format books, especially from good publishers, tend to be costly. So this smaller format keeps the book far more affordable. I like that the book is printed in a landscape format allowing the largest photographs to take up a single page. I’m always a little disappointed when a photograph spans pages, with the seam running through the length of the photograph. I’m pleased that’s not the case with this book.

The links below are affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

Go seek out a copy of Sanctuary if you enjoy Steve McCurry’s work or are interested in the people, culture and historical architecture of the Angkor region.