Photographer Steve McCurry's Search for Elsewhere: 40 Years of Unseen Images

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Steve McCurry

It seems we're not the only ones going through our old photos and waxing nostalgic for traveling the world. World-renowned photojournalist and former Newsweek photographer Steve McCurry has released In Search of Elsewhere: Unseen Images, a retrospective collection from his rich archive featuring 40 years of his photos from across the globe, many of which have not been seen until now.

McCurry's signature touch is not only his skill at making an ordinary moment look surreal but also "finding the human behind the headlines and so restoring the humanity of us all," as acclaimed travel writer Pico Iyer says in the book's foreword. McCurry's four decades of photography span conflicts, ancient rituals, vanishing cultures and also everyday life, from Pakistan and Myanmar to Cuba and Tibet.

Just as we'll never forget the piercing stare from McCurry's iconic "Afghan Girl" on a 1985 National Geographic cover, these images remain timeless. They leave us not only longing for elsewhere but seeing ourselves in the people who find themselves at home there.

Newsweek spoke to McCurry about his lifetime of photographing the world.

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Steve McCurry at Howrah Station, India in 1983. Courtesy of Steve McCurry

Some photos in In Search of Elsewhere were taken nearly 40 years ago. What do you think makes a photo's power endure across decades?
You look at a picture and it grabs you. There's a story in the picture—an emotional component, a revelation, something you can't forget, something about humanity or something that becomes clear, or something you identify with: "Oh my God, I know that feeling." You can't forget a picture that lives with you and makes some sort of comment about our lives in this world at this time.

What would be your greatest hope that one of your photos has the power to do?
Life is struggle. There's no way around that, there's a lot of drudgery, but there's also a lot of wonderful, tender, loving moments. There's art and there's beauty and music and different things that make life worthwhile. I think that in photography we can share this emotion and stories about each other to show our similarities.

I'm here for a brief amount of time, and these are my impressions: what I've seen, what I've learned, and observations that I've made that I hope other people would be able to identify with. And perhaps chuckle or sympathize with or learn something from.

Your photos always depict the human element. Why do you think that's so important?
We rush through life. The great thing about photography is it's a meditation that you can do out on the street. You start to pay attention to what's happening right now in front of you and having an appreciation for being alive. To me that's one of the great things about my life as a photographer, is it allows me to appreciate and observe the world around us.

Take a look at some of our favorite images from McCurry's In Search of Elsewhere:

Bumburet, Pakistan
1981

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Steve McCurry

One of McCurry's signature touches is capturing his subjects with dignity and respect. This photo shows an indomitable young man without shoes, his feet tightly wrapped in rags despite the snow. He was a member of the Kalash, an indigenous Indo-Aryan people unique to Pakistan. Their polytheistic religion is said to be animist, in which nature plays a major role.

Xigazê, Tibet
1989

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Young monks gather on mounted cushions to drink yak butter tea, as they have for almost 600 years, in a monastery dating back to its foundation by the first dalai lama in 1447.

Zagreb, Croatia
1989

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Inside the neo-baroque Croatian National Theater in Zagreb, ballet dancers stretch as a cleaner sweeps the stage. McCurry has captured the juxtaposition between the necessary disparity of their positions and their uncomfortable awareness of each other amid their own isolation.

Yangon, Myanmar
1994

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McCurry's mastery lies in taking everyday scenes and showing them in an almost surreal, magical way. On the streets of Myanmar, he captures an otherwise ordinary moment at a colorful barbershop—little more than a cupboard suspended above the pavement—as a window into another world.

Gulmarg, Kashmir
1999

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Just as arresting as McCurry's iconic Afghan girl, this man holds a similarly captivating stare. Aadam Aziz's character in Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children has eyes described as "a clear blue, the astonishing blue of mountain sky, which has a habit of dripping into the pupils of Kashmiri men."

Havana, Cuba
2010

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McCurry is known for his intimate portraits, which he says start simply with a conversation. A chance encounter with a woman on the streets of Havana turned into her reminiscing about her time studying and working in New York City in the 1950s. His portrait, with her purple-dyed hair, reveals her timeless spirit of reinvention.

Geremiyaka Village, Papua New Guinea
2017

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McCurry's long career is rooted in showing humanity in some of the world's most remote locations. Here he captures a father and son of the Asaro tribe participating in a ritual dance.

Antigua, Guatemala
2017

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In Guatemala, Holy Week is the most important time of the year. Easter is celebrated with a mixture of Spanish Catholic traditions and indigenous cultural beliefs. On Good Friday, a procession of black-robed believers fill the streets in Antigua, carrying smoking incense as they head to church.

Lomé, Togo
2017

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Young girls in math class in Togo, where education is free for all and compulsory up to age 15. Nevertheless, less than a quarter of students complete primary education, and almost half of the female population is illiterate.

Kolkata, India
2018

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McCurry is both a photojournalist and a fine art photographer, and his mastery of color and composition coexists with his documentation of society. These two colorful doorways show a Hindu priest preparing for evening puja, an act of worship. It is believed that dusk marks the end of the day's attachments and travails.