How Steve McCurry captured the lives of coffee growers

On International Coffee Day take another look at the photos in From These Hands: A Journey Along The Coffee Trail
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A woman prepares for a coffee ritual, Amaro region, Ethiopia, 2014. All photographs by Steve McCurry
A woman prepares for a coffee ritual, Amaro region, Ethiopia, 2014. All photographs by Steve McCurry

The origin of the beans in your morning drink of coffee is as dark and obscure as the bottom of the espresso cup.

Alongside oil, sugar, wheat and soya beans, coffee is one of the most valuable primary commodities in global trade. Yet we don’t readily associate the comfortable cafés of the first world with the tropical communities in the developing world, where coffee is commonly grown and exported.

Steve McCurry’s photo book, From These Hands: A Journey Along the Coffee Trail links up those beans with that finished cup. As the award-winning Magnum photographer explains, the photos in it are less about the latest variation on the flat white, more about the extraordinary strength and dignity of coffee growing communities around the world.

 

Children play football in a clearing on a coffee estate, Amaro region, Ethiopia, 2014
Children play football in a clearing on a coffee estate, Amaro region, Ethiopia, 2014

“The culture around coffee growing and the people that work in coffee-growing regions is what really interests me,” McCurry says. “This project is about coffee, but not in the literal sense. It’s more impressionistic. It’s about how we live, about how people interact with one another.”

 

Farmers spread coffee beans to dry, Lambari, Brazil, 2010
Farmers spread coffee beans to dry, Lambari, Brazil, 2010

From These Hands takes in Ethiopia, Vietnam, Peru, Honduras, Tanzania and Burma among other destinations, as McCurry captures the lives, of these of the farmers, coffee pickers, and other hard-working labourers, who are ultimately responsible for our morning brews.

 

Portrait of an elderly man sitting in a green room, Ethiopia, 2014
Portrait of an elderly man sitting in a green room, Ethiopia, 2014

Yet From These Hands doesn’t try to lecture us on sustainable sourcing or fair trade; McCurry isn’t that kind of photographer. Instead, following in the tradition of Magnum co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson and street photographer Joel Meyerowitz, he captures fleeting moments on his never-ending trail across the globe, that tell us more than any dry development-studies lecture ever could. “These are the pictures I made along the way,” he says modestly in our book’s introduction. And, like the beans in some of the pictures, we’re very glad they’ve made it all the way from these exotic locales to us.

 

From These Hands: A Journey Along the Coffee Trail

To order a copy of From These Hands, go here; and for more practical, global coffee knowledge, order a copy of Where to Drink Coffee.


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