See India Through Steve McCurry’s Lens

3 minute read

When Magnum photographer Steve McCurry left for India in 1978, he brought a one-way ticket, some money and two suitcases: one had clothes and the other held 250 rolls of Kodachrome. He had been studying the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Margaret Bourke-White, who had also photographed in India.

“So many of the great photographers had worked there, and it was obvious that I needed to start a body of work on India,” he says. “I intended to go for six weeks, but stayed for two years.”

This first trip launched his career, which now spans six continents over more than 30 years, and has marked him as an influential figure in contemporary photography. He would go on to capture iconic images of Buddhists in Burma, AIDS victims in Vietnam, and the haunting image of the Afghan girl with the piercing green eyes, published on the cover of National Geographic. But he always returned to India.

“History is alive in India,” he says.”No matter how much the country is changing, there’s something about India that makes you feel like you’re stepping back into another time and age,” he says. “This ancient spirit is alive and vital in a way it is ceasing to be in other places.”

From hidden winding stairwells to Rajasthani desert dust storms to grand gold-lined temples, McCurry’s colorful work shows an India never before seen. The work will be exhibited this month at the Rubin Museum of Art, in tandem with a book titled Steve McCurry: India.

“[I was drawn to] the depth of culture here,” McCurry says. “The visual chaos, the endless variety of dramatic cheek-by-jowl juxtapositions it affords: modernity and tradition, the haves and have-nots, the usual and the bizarre.”

One signature element of his work is his portrait-style photos. His subject’s unabashed stare into the camera suggests a stunning kind of intimacy. “I prefer that they look me in the eyes rather than at the camera lens,” he says. “The Indian people are used to cameras and they like being photographed.”

Beyond that, he says it’s also about a kind of shared curiosity. “They were as curious about me as I was about them,” he says. “We have this innate intrigue about other human beings — what we wear, what we say, how we walk, how we interact with one another.”

McCurry’s evocative storytelling is in full force, says Mark Lubell, executive director of the International Center of Photography, which is partnering with the Rubin Museum of Art. “McCurry’s images of India’s people, landscapes, monuments, urban, and rural life portray the richness of his subject, an inspiration that he describes as ‘inexhaustible.’”

The exhibition runs until April 4, 2016 at the Rubin Museum of Art. Steve McCurry: India is available at or on Amazon.

Steve McCurry has been a photojournalist for over 30 years. He is the recipient of the Robert Capa Gold Medal, the National Press Photographers Award and four first prize awards in the World Press Photo contest.

Rachel Lowry is a writer and contributor for TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @rachelllowry.

Father and daughter on Dal Lake. Srinagar, Kashmir, 1996Steve McCurry
Monk in a food stall. Bodh Gaya, Bihar, 2000Steve McCurry
Crowd carries a man during the Holi Festival. Rajasthan, 1996Steve McCurry
Hindu pilgrims visit shrines and ghats along the River Ganges. Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, 1996Steve McCurry
Father and son at home. Jodhpur, Rajasthan, 1996Steve McCurry
Medical assistants review files at the Cancer Hospital. Jaipur, Rajasthan, 2009Steve McCurry
Wrestlers train at an Akhara Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, 1996Steve McCurry
Tailor carries his sewing machine through monsoon floodwaters. Porbandar, Gujarat, 1983Steve McCurry
Boy in mid-flight. Jodhpur, Rajasthan, 2007Steve McCurry
Sikh devotee prays at the Golden Temple Amritsar, Punjab, 1996Steve McCurry
Steam engine passes in front of the Taj Mahal. Agra, Uttar Pradesh, 1983Steve McCurry
Mother and child at a car window Mumbai, 1993Steve McCurry
 Women shielding themselves from a dust storm Rajasthan, 1983Steve McCurry
Woman and child on the Howrah Mail train en route to Kolkata. West Bengal, 1982.Steve McCurry
Agra Fort train station at dusk, with the Jama Masjid, the great mosque of Shah Jahan, in the distance. Agra, Uttar Pradesh, 1983Steve McCurry
Students of Gujarat Vidyapith university, founded in 1920 by Mahatma Gandhi, weave Khadi cloth. Ahmedabad, Gujarat, 1996Steve McCurry
Young Rinpoche (meaning 'precious one'),Sakya monastery. Bylakuppe, Karnataka, 2001Steve McCurry
Men wait for food to be served during a wedding party near Jodhpur. Rajasthan, 1996Steve McCurry
Women participate in a laughter club at Mumbai's Hanging Gardens. Mumbai, 1996Steve McCurry
Women in a step well. Rajasthan, 2002Steve McCurry
Man practices acupressure while walking on gravel. Jaipur, Rajasthan, 2009Steve McCurry
Bicycles hanging on the side of a train. West Bengal, India, 1983Steve McCurry
Mahouts sleep with their elephant. Rajasthan, 2012Steve McCurry
A young girl walking past a movie poster Mumbai, 1993Steve McCurry
Devotee carries statue of Lord Ganesh into the waters of the Arabian Sea during the immersion ritual off Chowpatty beach. Mumbai, 1993Steve McCurry
Man with a henna beard. Srinagar, Kashmir, 1995Steve McCurry
Soldiers trudge through the snow, passing a church, mosque and temple. Gulmarg, Kashmir, 1999Steve McCurry
Three friends in Shalimar Gardens. Srinagar, Kashmir, 1998Steve McCurry

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