At his solo exhibition at the Patricia Conde Galeria in Mexico City, American photographer Steve McCurry was interviewed by DesignBoom Espanol. The interview tackled subjects such as documentary versus artistic imagery, McCurry’s focus and creative curiosities, and what characteristics does the photographer think is necessary to be a good lensman.
The exhibit will showcase some of Steve McCurry’s most famed images that helped him build his now widely renowned career. The showcase will run from August until September 4, 2015. The exhibit is sponsored by Tequila 1800.
Here is a transcript of the interview with McCurry.
DesignBoom (later DB): How does your interior world affect or influence the way you see the outer world as you photograph? How do you focus in order to detect the details you want to capture?
Steve McCurry (later SM): There’s a contemplative or meditative quality to photography, which I find to be a sort of peaceful state. When I’m walking around photographing, I get into a particular mind-set where I become much more attuned to the world around me. It’s a joy to be alive, and maybe that’s what comes through. When I am walking around, I am present in the moment. When I am photographing, that is the zone I am in. I look at my surroundings and see what is different and special about the place. I want to examine, explore, and see what stands out; it doesn’t always have to be human. It can be a crack on the sidewalk or an animal playing. It’s the appreciation for that moment in time and appreciation for the planet.
DB: There is a difference between journalistic documentation, photographic art, and historic documentation. Still, it seems that you have blurred these areas, since your pictures first appear in magazines, then they hang in art galleries, and in 100 years, they will become valuable historic witnesses. Are the borders disappearing? Or are these three realms truly interconnected?
SM: A photograph can have artistic elements and still be documentary. There aren’t such clear lines between the two. Documentary photography is becoming more and more accepted in the fine art market. There are certain documentary photographs in the world that just hit on something that we all respond to; there is a universal chord that speaks to us. They become important. Photography—art—has a way of bringing many people into the same moment and making you feel for a fleeting second or two that you are part of something bigger.
DB: Technology is volatile, and it seems that you seek after what is perennial in human beings. Some traditional professions have existed for thousands of years, such as being a baker or a shepherd. How do you understand the tension between the ‘‘what remains’’ and the ‘‘what changes’’ in your photographic endeavors?
SM: The whole world is changing, juxtaposing new against the old. I am interested in preserving the past. There was a time when regional differences and customs, which evolved over hundreds of years, defined a society. I am more interested in these things that are disappearing. The world is changing so fast, and many of the cultures are fast disappearing. These cultures are distinct and different and they fascinate me.
DB: Curiosity and inquisitiveness are crucial for letting the camera flow. Are these the necessary conditions for discovering the essence of the people you portrait? Is it necessary to have a sound connection with them?
SM: I think to be a good photographer, you need to have an inquiring mind and to be very curious. I keep it simple and generally try and to treat people with the utmost dignity and respect when I’m photographing them. I also try to create an atmosphere of trust. Many of these portraits are the result of brief, chance encounters, which lasted maybe a couple of minutes from beginning to end.
DB: How does the passage of time affect the way you see your own images? Does time change the way others see your images?
SM: It is always interesting to reflect back on work that I did decades ago and discover pictures, which may have been passed over at the time, but may hold some new resonance in retrospect. I think it’s an incredible thing to be able to go through old photos and experience them anew. In a way, it’s like reading a diary. Even if the images themselves are not technically great pictures, old photos can be like a visual notebook and a unique way of reflecting.