Let Steve McCurry take you to India
William Dalrymple calls the photographer's new book 'a testament to a long-standing love of India'
Street dentists and pavement astrologers, barbers that crack your neck after they’ve cut the hair from your head. Twenty million passengers a day, packed into, and on top of, trains passing through some of the most incredible natural and urban scenery of any country on the planet.
India in the raw is as exciting and entrancing as anything you’ve ever experienced. Home to two billion people its appeal is ever-growing and the country attracts an incredible seven million visitors a year - with very good reason.
Not all of those seven million come back with a photographic record that can impress the rest of us, of course - which is where the celebrated Magnum photographer Steve McCurry comes in. Even McCurry has lost count of the number of times he’s been to India (it's over eighty, he says). In fact, he stopped counting after thirty five years of visits.
But you can be sure that when a photographer as prolific as Steve visits a country as visually vibrant as India he quickly begins to amass a huge body of work. Hundreds of photos soon turn into thousands of photographs.
As you might suspect, much of this work can get overlooked in the rush to the next assignment. It sounds crazy but to date we’ve seen only (an admittedly excellent) fraction of the photos McCurry has taken on the Indian sub continent.
But that’s about to change with the publication of India, the new photo book we publish with McCurry in October. New and old fans alike will be able to see some of the great photos Steve has taken over the years but, outside of the Phaidon offices, (we’ve worked with Steve for over twenty years) have never been seen in public.
Printed in stunning resolution, published in large format and cloth bound with tipped in front cover, India is impressive both visually and in its incredible tactility – it really does feel sumptuous when it’s in your hands - and is destined to take pride of place in any photographic library.
Of its 96 photographs, over half are previously unseen and hand-picked from the Magnum photographer’s huge personal archive. These vary from street scenes in Kolkata, socialites in Mumbai, shepherds in Kashmir and Hindu devotees immersing statues of Ganesh in the sea off Chowpatty Beach.
As the noted India historian, art historian, broadcaster, writer and author of The Last Mughal, Return of a King and other bestselling works on India William Dalrymple writes in the foreword to the book:
“This collection is a testament to a long-standing love of India and a commitment to recording its wondrous diversity. It represents a genuine panorama of the country, from Rajasthani desert dust storms to monsoon-flooded Bengali villages, from Kashmir to Kerala. His is a world of limpid light, burning colours and darkest shadow, in mood both melancholy and festive. From the massed crowds of Kumbh to a lone woodsman in the Himalayan forest, all Indian humanity is here.”
McCurry’s India is, as Dalrymple points out, a world of paradox, where the red robes of a Buddhist monk echo perfectly the red of the Coke advertisement behind him; where a businessman heads to work with umbrella and briefcase through waste-high monsoon floods; and where border guards ride camels through the timeless desert sands of the Thar, carrying hi-tech assault rifles.
If you think you know India, or if you think you know about beautiful photography you’re really only seeing part of the picture if this one isn't in your collection. As befits a country with 800 different dialects (and seemingly even more hand gestures!) it’s all in the detail, detail which McCurry captures so meticulously. As Dalrymple writes:
“Some tirthas, such as the great city of Varanasi – where McCurry captures elderly boatmen rowing against a muddy monsoon torrent - are famous across the country; others are known only to the villages that surround them, such as the small Shiva village shrine he captures in one of his most memorable shots, caked in the oil and encrusting lamp – carbon of centuries. Hung with a hundred brass bells and worshipped by some dreadlocked holy man. Between them, McCurry shows that this vast network of keyholes into the parallel world of the divine constitutes the essence of India’s sacredness; indeed it arguably the essence of India’s Indianness.”