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"I was inspired



When Steve McCurry first visited Nepal in 1979 as an extension of his trip to India, his mind's eye was immediately taken in by the sights. The subcontinent was a vast, exotic land that overwhelmed the senses of this 26-year-old photographer. But Nepal presented its visual delights in small doses: in the play of light and shadow, the mountains, the rains, the peoples' faces.

"People often ask me what my favourite place is," mused Steve during a visit to Nepal this month. "Nepal is right at the top of my list. I am drawn to the mountains, the people, everything in it. That is why I keep coming back." Nepal is also where Steve got his big break as a photographer. From Nepal he travelled often to Afghanistan in the early 1980s when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, and the mujahideen war began. Suddenly, this unknown photographer was in great demand at the New York Times, Time and other international publications. Steve had fresh and captivating pictures of a land that was plunging headlong into war and tragedy. The pictures won him the Magazine Photographer of the Year Award in1984.

Steve's first trip to Kabul from Kathmandu was overland, flying to Patna, taking the train to Amritsar, walking across the border at Wagah, travelling up to Peshawar and then slipping into Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass. Steve has kept coming back to Nepal, and taking pictures here on his treks to the Langtang, Helambu and Annapurna regions. He became more and more enamoured by the monsoons as they lashed the Himalaya, and the paradox of too much and too little water. How the monsoon brought life, but also death and destruction. The idea germinated into a cover story for National Geographic in 1984 and then into the picture book, Monsoon, which has gone into several editions in the past 15 years. Steve travelled across Nepal, Bangladesh, India and even to northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines chasing the monsoon. The book is a tribute to human adaptability, survival, and hope.

"What always fascinated me about Nepal is the experience that surrounds a picture," says Steve. "I remember waiting on the banks of this river near Trisuli which was swollen with monsoon rain. A family began crossing the torrent. A small slip, and they would all have been washed away. I was transfixed." Or, there are quiet gentle images that bring out the moods of the rains like the picture of a boy walking his water buffalo to pasture while shielding himself from the rain with a banana leaf. "The joy of the whole thing, the rewarding part of it is the experience that surrounds the picture, recognising the moment that captures the magic and the essence of a place."

Steve's newest picture book is South South East, a major collection of images from south and south-east Asia that captures the atmosphere and spirit of the region, its myriad cultures and religions, and how it has come face to face with a globalised world. He says: "This is the only part of the world that rally grabs me, you have this fascinating link with the past." Steve has also amassed a rich collection of portraits from all over the world, and Portraits was published in 1999 by Phaidon.

With assignments back-to-back from National Geographic, life has now got very hectic for Steve. But he is at work on a book on Buddhism from Afghanistan to Cambodia, from Bamiyan to the Angkor Wat which will probably come out next year. Steve has no time for vacation, but he does sometimes get fascinating well-paid assignments like the one for a Boeing ad, which entailed taking a helicopter to Syangboche, arranging a shoot with a backdrop of Mt Everest and flying right back. "We flew over this spectacular terrain in minutes, the same trails that took us a week to walk over 20 years ago," laughs Steve.

But the most challenging and fun part of the job for a photographer is to get up early in the morning and make it easy for serendipitous moments to happen-the lucky situations that crystallise the instant. Steve gropes for words to explain: "As you wander through life, the mind forms a composite of a situation, and you get one chance to tell the story with a picture."


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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