My father was Welsh through and through, but my mother moved to Wales from Gloucester, England (accent and all) to marry him in the late 70s. Sadly, he died in a tragic accident when I was only 12 years old.
I lost not only my father and best friend, but also my anchor and link to my Welsh heritage.
The result was that I grew up never quite feeling like I belonged in Wales – like a visitor in my own country.
On top of this, my interests and views on life didn’t necessarily align with those of British culture, let alone the culture of rural Wales. I wanted to sip vino and read paperbacks, not chug pints and watch the rugby.
Many moons later, I discovered the work of Steve McCurry. His bold use of colour and narrative-led stories blew my socks off, revealing to me a world of possibilities.
I was struck by the way he captured the extraordinariness of ordinary lives in faraway lands.
His photos might as well have come from a different planet for all I was concerned, and I was fascinated that he’d actually been there, that he’d seen and experienced it all… that he’d been part of it in some small way.
But more than that, his work gave me a sense of relief and reassurance that perhaps I too could find a place elsewhere that would feel like home, somewhere to belong. That there were other ways of living!
And, so, off I went. Based in Barcelona, Spain, I travelled the world with my camera, observing and searching for the extraordinariness of ordinary life.
Photography became a sort of meditation for me – an outlet for my own small voice.
Of course, what I also discovered was that, no matter where I went, I never actually did feel like I belonged. And I couldn’t pretend to be anyone or anything other than myself.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn so eloquently puts it, “Wherever you go, there you are.” The emphasis being on you. I was still me, still the same old outsider, just… somewhere else.
What I do seem to have achieved, however, from studying McCurry’s work, is the ability to see and appreciate the world as it is.
I may not be able to fully call anywhere home, but I am, in my own way, able to possess a small slice of it. As Susan Sontag says in On Photography: “To collect photographs is to collect the world.”
McCurry’s work inspires me to dream of the possibilities of life and not get too brain-fogged by my own self-imposed limitations.
It’s taught me to look at the mundane with a sense of wonder, to value the unique perspective I am afforded as a perennial outsider.
My Recommended Steve McCurry Photo Books
Steve McCurry has a huge library of books available to buy. I haven’t seen them all, but I do have two and cherish them both greatly.
Both are fantastic, and I only have to open one up to inject myself with a double dose of inspiration and motivation.
Untold probably offers more in terms of value for money (£20 vs £60 for A Life in Pictures), but if you just want one book of Steve McCurry’s work, then I’d say A Life in Pictures is the way to go. Not only does it feature a solid variety of his greatest photos, but his sister, Bonnie McCurry, has written a fascinating account of his journey into photography (and around the world many times).
Saying that, there are a few other Steve McCurry books that I’d love to get my hands on, including:
Are you a Steve McCurry fan? What are you favourite image/books, and what do you think it is that makes his work so special?
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