Steve McCurry's Advice for Young Creatives

Legendary Magnum photographer's advice for graduates this summer: #1: 'Be proactive!'
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Steve McCurry - photograph by Bruno Barbey
Steve McCurry - photograph by Bruno Barbey

Steve McCurry 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 Mc Curry in Australia, 1984 - as featured in Untold The Stories Behind The Photographs
Steve Mc Curry in Australia, 1984 - as featured in Untold The Stories Behind The Photographs

Obviously, you don't live a life like Steve has without learning a LOT. So when he was in town a couple of weeks back, we thought it might be a nice idea to ask him what kind of advice he wished he'd been given when he began his long career path to photographic superstardom.

We'll be running five of these mini-interviews with Steve, pretty much in a chronological fashion  and following his progress through his own working life. In Steve's case of course, his advice to his younger self applies to photography but you can apply it to pretty much any creative endeavour you plan to devote your life to. Today Steve talks about just how important it is to get out there and just get going.

 

As featured in Steve McCurry's From These Hands: A Journey Along The Coffee Trail
As featured in Steve McCurry's From These Hands: A Journey Along The Coffee Trail

"I think the thing the young Steve McCurry would have asked me is how do I break into the major magazine market? What’s the path I take from being someone who has no portfolio, to somebody who is establishing himself and who can get work. What’s the best way to accomplish that? 

"And to answer that, I would say that I think you have to go out and really prime the well. You have to go out and make pictures - or whatever it is you do - on your own. You can’t wait for the phone to ring. You have to be proactive. 

 

As featured in Steve McCurry's From These Hands: A Journey Along The Coffee Trail
As featured in Steve McCurry's From These Hands: A Journey Along The Coffee Trail

"To do this, it's best to work out just what interests you. So, if you’re a photographer, find out what kind of photographer you want to be. You don’t want to let some other client pull you along. You have to find something of your own that you find fascinating or interesting. 



"For me, it was travel. I really wanted to travel. I guess if I’d had the money, travelling and wandering and doing it through sheer observation would have been the way to go. But I worked on a  newspaper for two or three years. I guess that was valuable and helped me when going into a situation and summing it up. How do I make a picture of this situation?" 

 

Photo pages from Steve McCurry's passport 1996-06 - as featured in Untold The Stories Behind The Photographs
Photo pages from Steve McCurry's passport 1996-06 - as featured in Untold The Stories Behind The Photographs

"But travel was my thing. I was never interested in landscape as such, it was always people. I was interested in human behaviour and how people were with each other. It was always that. People and portraits. Knowing that really got me started."

If you'd like to know where the journey was to lead Steve we have a number of McCurry 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.

 

As featured in Steve McCurry's From These Hands: A Journey Along The Coffee Trail
As featured in Steve McCurry's From These Hands: A Journey Along The Coffee Trail

Check back soon for the next instalment in our Steve McCurry advice series in which he talks about developing your craft through trial and error.  And take another look at our ten Masterclass videos with Steve here.


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ABOUT PHAIDON

Phaidon is the premier global publisher of the creative arts with over 1,500 titles in print. We work with the world's most influential artists, chefs, writers and thinkers to produce innovative books on art, photography, design, architecture, fashion, food and travel, and illustrated books for children. Phaidon is headquartered in London and New York City.
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