Steve McCurry's Advice for Young Creatives #2

There's nothing like practice, practice practice! for becoming the best at what you do says the Magnum photographer
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Steve McCurry
Steve McCurry

"You know that old joke about how do you get to Carnegie Hall? You need to practice, practice practice!," says Steve McCurry with a warm chuckle. It's a viewpoint that's obviousy served him well and has been one of the biggest drivers of his photographic success over the years.

That desire to keep pushing on, never rest on laurels, always look for a new challenge and push himself not to fail is a great creed to live by - if you're up to it. So with that in mind we're currently running a series of creative life tutorials with Steve. And you don't need to be a budding photographer to take some sage advice from them, their essence can be applied to any creative endeavour you're involved in. You can find the first one here

 

Steve McCurry, Pray flags (2001), Machen, Tibet
Steve McCurry, Pray flags (2001), Machen, Tibet

Steve as you know has been at the forefront of human interest photography for over three decades now. In that time he's covered some incredibly weighty topics: conflicts in Afghanistan and the middle east, The plight of the Tibetan people, environmental impact on global communities, the AIDS crisis in Asia and the plight of domestic servants in big cities. 

More recently of course he's, documented, rather beautifully, the lives of coffee growers in Brazil, Burma, Ethiopia and Vietnam in a great new book, From These Hands: A Journey Along The Coffee Trail

 

Steve McCurry, Baby in a bicycle sling at Banteay Srei, Angkor, Cambodia (2000)
Steve McCurry, Baby in a bicycle sling at Banteay Srei, Angkor, Cambodia (2000)

Today's advice is all about the importance of honing your craft - finding out what it is that excites you creatively then practising it over and over again until you've mastered it. Malcolm Gladwell referred to it as taking 10,000 hours to become 'phenom' at what you do. Here's how McCurry sees it.

"Just like any gymnast or pianist or violinist or football player invests a lot of time in their craft, you can’t expect to take a camera out on a Saturday afternoon - click, click, click - and be a master. It takes a lot to learn to develop and to understand light and so on," says McCurry.

 

Steve McCurry, People sitting on and crowding inside a taxi, Mazar e sharif (2003)
Steve McCurry, People sitting on and crowding inside a taxi, Mazar e sharif (2003)

"Even for me today it’s still gradual. In anything like this you get more and more proficient. You look at your work and you go back again. And you look again and you go back again. And again and again. You look at other photographers and or art and in time you start to hone your eye and you start to develop your own signature way of seeing. 

"And you also find the things that interest you. It’s important again to photograph things that are important to you. It could be sports, still lifes, it could be flowers, news or nudes. Whatever it is, the more you get into it, the more you train and the more you dig down deep the better your work becomes. So it’s not about a casual approach. This is something that takes a lot of time and commitment and discipline to get to that certain place. 

 

Steve McCurry, Calcutta, India (1996)
Steve McCurry, Calcutta, India (1996)

Nor is it a case of, ‘oh it’s time to practice’ says Steve. "It should be something that you love to do, something that is a necessity something that you feed off. I think that is important to developing your eye and your craft and it just takes time. So take the long view and be prepared to spend a lot of time on it."

If you'd like to know how such an approach came good for for Steve, we have a number of his books you'll probably be interested in. For starters there's the soon to be published and available for pre-order India, the current From These Hands: A Journey Along The Coffee Trail and his magnificent back catalogue of work, which you can see here, all of it published by Phaidon.

 

Steve McCurry Shaolin monks training (2004), Zhengzhou, China
Steve McCurry Shaolin monks training (2004), Zhengzhou, China

Check back soon for the next instalment in our Steve McCurry advice series in which he talks about the importance of showing your work to others. And take another look at our ten Masterclass videos with Steve here.


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