A new exhibition focuses on photographs that remind us of the vastness of human culture. It’s a striking blend of art, journalism and storytelling.
More than 80 large-format prints represent the career of Steve McCurry, a photography Hall of Famer and a controversial figure to some.
McCurry’s images are people-driven. His most famous portrait, “Afghan Girl,” was a memorable cover for National Geographic in 1985. Other pics are recognizable from the Magnum photographer’s many books and globe-trotting assignments.
McCurry spoke with WTTW News about how he earns the trust of people he meets all over the world.
“You come in with humility and respect and a bit of humor and let them know somehow that you appreciate them, that you want to tell their story,” he said. “To create chemistry, you have to have an authentic empathy and interest in people.”
“Sometimes it’s immediate — you see somebody pass you on the street and there’s some intuitive feeling you have about the person, or you see a story written in their face and think, ‘This is important.’ It’s kind of a gut feeling.”
The photographs are featured in “ICONS,” the first art show at the Loyola University Museum of Art since 2019.
However, the show is not curated by the museum and is not part of an official grand reopening, which is planned for later in 2024. It’s a partnership with Fever, the live entertainment company most famous for candlelight concerts. Loyola brought in the ticketed show to raise some revenue before the museum officially reopens.
“ICONS” also reflects the museum’s mission to “illuminate the experiences of humanity.” The photos are gorgeously intense with rich colors and stunning compositions. And they are not without controversy.
The work attracted scrutiny in 2016 when McCurry was accused of manipulating pictures using Photoshop, a breach of journalistic ethics.
McCurry defended his practices to TIME magazine, saying, “I’m a visual storyteller, not a photojournalist.”
He told WTTW News: “Documenting these people and places is important to show the situation in an authentic way, but I think that can also be done in a poetic way. It depends on what you’re shooting, how you’re shooting it. How do you respond to a situation? How do you show how it felt to be there, the emotion of it? I think sometimes pictures can be so profound that they are elevated to some other level.”
A walk through the exhibit offers proof that McCurry makes elevated images, ones that took great effort to capture. And, as far as tinkering goes, isn’t what Ansel Adams did in the darkroom similar to what a digital photographer can do today?
For aspiring photographers, McCurry offers blunt advice: “Just practice and look at great photography. You can learn so much about how great photographers made pictures, with the light and the composition and the particular moment. Whatever you do in life requires a lot of hard work. It’s like a violinist or anybody who plays an instrument. You gotta put the time in.”
At age 73, the world traveler isn’t slowing down. He’s planning a trip to Antarctica at the end of the year in search of the next iconic photo.
“I think that if it touches me, hopefully that will communicate to other people,” McCurry said. “We are all part of this human family. How else would we really learn about the world if it wasn’t for videographers and writers and photographers?”