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20 Must-See Photos of South Asia Through the Eyes of Photojournalist Steve McCurry

3 min read

Steve McCurry is the incredible photojournalist behind the famous “Afghan Girl” portrait that originally appeared in National Geographic and is now hailed as the modern-day, Mona Lisa.

His career began when he crossed the Pakistani border, disguised as a native, into rebel-controlled areas of Afghanistan right before the Russian invasion. His photographs of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan were among the first to depict the conflict to the rest of the world. And to make his story even more riveting, he protected his photographs by sewing the rolls of film into his clothing.

Since then, he has travelled the world and spent many years photographing the heart and soul of many South Asian countries; its people, culture, and the heart-wrenching emotions that only his photographs could truly do justice for. He perfectly captures the essence of each country he has photographed, and in the process, captured all of our hearts.

[Between Peshwar and Lahore, Pakistan | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
INDIA-11024, Rabari Tribal elders.
[Rajasthan | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry
[Weligama, Sri Lanka | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
Blue Mosque, Mazar i Sharif, Afghanistan, 1991, 1992"Doves in front of Mazar-e Sharif's famous 'Blue Mosque,' the Tomb of Hazrat Ali. Revered by Muslims as the tomb of the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, this 15th-century mosque near the border of Uzbekistan is named for the cobalt blue and turquoise colors of its minarets and domes. Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, 1991."- George Eastman House"The white doves are a tourist attraction for Afghans. They are fed and cared for by travelers - by traders and farmers who come to market, and by residents of the northern region who come to the city to pray at the large mosque. In a country not given to leisure travel, the doves provide a symbol of peace." - Phaidon 55NYC5926, MCS1994002 K046 final print_milan
[Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
[Kabul, Afghanistan | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
[Afghanistan | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
[Kolkata | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
[Kashmir | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
Holi festival, Rajasthan, India, 1996 The Holi festival is also known as the festival of colours and this image by McCurry shows why. With powder bombs exploding around him, this man is in a state of reverie as he is carried aloft through the crowd. In form and content it is an image of intense fervour and excitement. Magnum Photos, NYC94205, MCS1996002K308 Phaidon, Iconic Images, final print_milan, iconic photographs
[Rajasthan | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
INDIA-10214, Bombay, India Mother and Child at Car Window, Bombay/Mumbai, India, 1993 A mother and child beg for alms through a taxi window during the monsoon. Bombay is the capital of India's business, movie, music, and fashion worlds. A city of wealth, but everywhere, within a few steps, is the greater India. Poverty, for both its victims and those who only witness it, is inescapable. Refugees from India's rural poverty and people seeking opportunities for a better life arrive each day in the thousands to swell a city which already seems to burst at the seams. Over time, you learn of the complex economics of Bombay's beggars. Street corners can be "inherited" or subject to leasing arrangements; a spot on one intersection busy with taxis is prime real estate. Begging is a way of life. An overwhelming number of the city's inhabitants live on the streets in intricate hierarchies-those that have shelter are better off than those on open ground. They in turn have risen above those who live on the streets themselves. (2000) South SouthEast. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 43. National Geographic, March 1995, Bombay: India's Capital of Hope Magnum Photos, NYC5919, MCS1996002 K097 ..Phaidon, 55, South Southeast, Iconic Images, final book_iconic, final print_milan Jam-packed and alive with commerce, India's richest country allures new corners by the hundreds each day. Arriving with little more than dreams, some hit it big. Others remain on the outside looking in: half of Bombay's 13 million people live on the streets or in ramshackle huts, and thousands-like this woman and child-survive only by begging. National Geographic: John McCarry (March 1995) Bombay: India's Capital of Hope, National Geographic. (vol.187 (3)) pp.42-67 *See caption in book. Iconic Photographs
[Bombay | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, 1999 final print_milan
[Agra | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
Red Umbrella Taj Mahal, Agra, India, 2000.
[Taj Mahal, Agra | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
[Haridwar | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
[India | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
[Jodhpur | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
[Porbandhar, Gujarat | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
Built to remain above the annual inundation. The tracks are often occupied by entire villages, camping till the floods subside, Bangladesh, 1983National Geographic, June 1984, By Rail Across the Indian Subcontinent, Phaidon, The Unguarded Moment, Iconic Images, final book_iconic, final print_milan
[Bangladesh | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]
Flower Seller, Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1996 National Geographic, September 1999, Kashmir: Trapped in Conflict "Each morning for two weeks during his 1996 visit to Lake Dal in Kashmir, McCurry travelled with the flower sellers. He had established a ritual for the morning hours, when the sun was at its best. Shortly after dawn, he would begin the day in the market; then he would ride with the boatmen. He knew these were the places for strong pictures. He also knew he needed to work for his pictures, to look and to wait for the right light and action to come together. And then, that morning, from a boat filled with flowers, he caught the boatman's hand in the reflected light of the V of the trees on Lake Dal." - Phaidon 55 Magnum Photos, NYC5901, MCS1999005 K017 Phaidon, 55, South Southeast, Iconic Images, final book_iconic, milan frame, final print_poster, iconic photographs A flower seller paddles through Dal Lake's quiet waters. Few observers expect diplomacy to restore equal serenity to his homeland. Buffeted from within and without by waves of seemingly intractable strife, Kashmir faces a stormy future. Good pictures take time and work. When visiting Lake Dal in 1996, McCurry travelled with the local flower sellers as they journeyed down the river. For two weeks he would ride with the merchants during the morning. On this day the vibrant flowers and boatman, arm raised in mid-paddle, combine with the morning light to create the perfect composition.
[Srinagar, Kashmir | Photo Credit: Steve McCurry]