Sunday, January 24, 2010

Steve McCurry's Travels through the Muslim World

Banner outside the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia : A COMMON FAITH/Steve McCurry's Travels through the Muslim World

I've heard of Steve McCurry and his fame as a photojournalist. We recognise the photo he gave the world - that of the Afghan girl, Sharbat Gula. So when I found out that there's an exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM), titled A COMMON FAITH/ Steve McCurry's Travels through the Muslim World, I gladly wanted to find out more.

In Gallery 1 on the ground floor of the IAMM, Steve's travels through the many countries in the Islamic world unfolded before my eyes.

Steve McCurry has won many accolades worldwide for his fine photography. On the brochure is a brief introduction to the man behind the evocative images.

'Steve McCurry, recognised universally as one of the today's finest image makers, has won many of photography's top awards. Best known for his evocative colour photography, McCurry captures the human struggle and joy. He has searched for and found the unforgettable, many of his images have become modern icons...'

Brochure showing some of Steve McCurry's photos : from the top left hand corner: Agra, India, 1963/ Lal Dal, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1996/ Uttar Pradesh, India,1999/ Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1992/ Shibam, Wadi Hadhramaut, Yemen,1999/ Karachi, Pakistan,1985/ Srinagar, Kashmir,1996/ Mauretania,1986.

The photos on display show images from Indonesia, Mauretania, Mali, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Steve's interests lie in people. Images show the human face living a life in their difficult situations.

In war-torn Afghanistan, there are varied scenes of life - children playing on abandoned anti - aircraft . Where else can they play ? To climb and amuse themselves ? A photo also shows a man selling jackets titled Jacket Seller - Kabul 2002. I counted - 12 jackets on his own shoulders to sell. Young Soldier -Kabul 1993 shows the world a young man all armoured and ready to fight his enemies - children like him made to fight in wars. As with all wars, the silence of the many, many graves speak as in Snow covered cemetery - Kabul 1992.

When I returned from the exhibition, I googled Steve McCurry. I learned more about him and how his adventurous spirit took him to India. In 1979, he crossed the Pakistan border into rebel - controlled Afghanistan. There he met some Afghan refugees in the small village of Chitral, N. Pakistan. They wanted him to tell the world the atrocities. McCurry moved among them in native garb and smuggled out rolls of films sewn in his clothes. It was then that news broke for the world to see and hear the conflict there. In 1980, McCurry won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad, an award dedicated to photographers showing exceptional courage and performance.

To find out more about Steve McCurry, please visit his blog. Here he shares his views on why the US have not learned their lesson. In his words , '... That tells me that many do not understand the country, the history, the people, the terrain, the language , the religion, the culture.'

I soon came to the photo of Sharbat Gula , the Afghan girl with the sea-green eyes that stared hauntingly from the cover of National Geographic, June 1985. It's interesting to know that Steve McCurry and the crew from National Geographic Television and Film went to Pakistan and finally found her in January 2002 after some searching around Nasir Bagh, the refugee camp where the photograph was taken. Though 17 years had passed, without a shadow of doubt, Steve McCurry recognised her.The world got to see Sharbat Gula , about 30 years old, now a woman with a family. Also, the world got to know much more about Sharbat Gula and her life. She is no more a face that intrigued - we now know her name. Later high tech iris and facial recognition tests confirmed the same person.

The exhibition is on till 8 April. I'm glad as it will give many the chance to view Steve McCurry's world renowned work and his lifelong passion in depicting humanity. So hurry there...

'If you wait, people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.'- Steve McCurry

Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
Jalan Lembah Perdana
50480 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603 2274 2020Fax: +603 2274 0529


  1. Thanks for sharing, might find one day to visit this exhibition.

  2. Thank you Keats. Great sharing. I will bring my son over. His quotation about soul drift up into view really reflect that picture of Sharbat.

  3. Beautiful post, my dear. I wish everyone would let the soul come into view. Have a blessed week.

  4. As with the rest of the world I am captivated by Sharbat Gula's eyes and the set of her mouth. Thankyou for posting about Steve McCurry and this exhibition... Afghans have a special place in my heart. Love the quote at the end. I often think the camera tries to steal our souls but this is a beautiful way to look at it xx

  5. Excellent stuff, Keats! Such poignant photos. I am sorely tempted to visit the exhibition, but am worried that it might be too close to home for me -- all my 'clients' and the problems they face -- exactly the ones in some of the more sorrowful and haunting photos, Keats. Children playing in the compound of their bombed schools. Women cooking outside refugee tents, while their little children wait anxiously. Elderly people with tears down their wrinkled faces when they discover a missing loved one declared dead. Ordinary folk trying to eke out a living selling small items and local food. Stunningly beautiful, but oh so painful to witness.

  6. Hi
    Sonia,the exhibition is very well worth a visit.

    Ocean Girl, glad to share.we're lucky to have steve mccurry coming over. He has visited KL before and held masterclasses.

    Rosidah Abidin, thanks you for popping in. Hope you're doing alright and your mum too:)

    Shaista, truly we 're captivated by Sharbat Gula's face. I love the quote too. Such priceless words to remember when a camera is in our hands:)

    ~Covert_Operations'78~, I understand your feelings. hard to fathom the adversities others face and they still have the courage and will to face the great odds.I guess seeing makes it all the more real- the pics are a form of documentation.

  7. Love the post and the quote at the end. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. I remember seeing this on the nat geo a few years ago. He is an amazing journalist/photographer! Good post.

  9. Wonderful post (as always .... :-)
    That quote is perfect !!!

  10. Oh that would be an awesome exhibit. Great post indeed!

  11. I love his images, esp the first's a legend now. Great you got to pop going to Chinatown in KL today...its been ages since we last went there! We should meet up before or after Chinese New Year. Happy week ahead

  12. Hi
    Veronica Lee a good piece of wisdom for all, especially photographers.

    Rosey Pollen,amazing indeed!

    Anya, salutations to McCurry !

    tattytiara,welcome to my blog. Do come again. there's more to enjoy on McCurry's web page.

    M.Kate, getting ready for Chinese New Year? Me too!Sure thing,we must meet up. Keep in touch. Right now, the house is in a mess( outside)- a big clean up and the painting etc. etc have not started.

  13. Wow, lucky you Keats. I bought a hard cover book by National Geographic featuring most of Steve McCurry's photos and the front and back cover of it was this Afghan girl and at the back was the Afghan girl in her adult years. Very impressive he is...hhhmmm I'm feel envious, hahahah!

  14. Wonderful post. I liked the descriptions you gave and many thanks for the links.

  15. Hi
    Pacey,owning a copy of Steve McCurry's book must be your pride and joy!I'm sure he's an inspiration to you as you're such an avid photographer yourself:))

    Indrani, do enjoy the links. there's so much to find out about Steve McCurry's works.The Afghan Girl,Sharbat Gula's story will always find a ready audience.

  16. Hi ChatteringMing, enjoy the exhibition! Thanks for popping by.

  17. Thank you for posting this.
    I managed to visit IAMM yesterday.

  18. Hi
    Lay Hoon aka mescrap, glad you got a peek into Steve McCurry's world. The exhibition will end soon. Hope news gets round.


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