Steve McCurry: Retrospective at The Waterhall, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery… BEAUTIFUL.

“From an outpouring of pictures over 20 years these are the faces I cannot forget. Some stare out of places I don’t want to remember. All of them represent chance connections in a world of resilience.” – McCurry

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Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s not always up to much…the permanent collection is classical, pre-raphaelite…all badly lit and sort of the pieces that didn’t quite make it into the National Gallery – so I don’t tend to pop in there much. However when running through the pouring rain on Monday I decided to hide in there for some shelter and was pleasantly surprised!

Mr McCurry’s been in the press quite a bit recently for his most famous image: Afghan Girl. This retrospective features this image and many others he’s famous for but I thought the real gems were the sorts of images he’s less famous for – images of everyday life in lands far far away which take the subject unaware, rather than the striking portraiture style which can be seen in Afghan Girl. Having taken over a million photos since he started working, McCurry had a lot to choose from – and there is a lot on show – however the exhibition is quite ‘family friendly’ compared to some of his much more shocking pieces I discovered online earlier this morning!

A really interesting little twist to the exhibition is that it includes the American documentary which followed McCurry’s search for the Afghan Girl. I won’t give too much away but if you’ve seen anything about it in the news you’ll know he did find her and the tragic thing is that while he must have made millions from her photo, she’s suffered terribly since the 1980s when the photograph was taken. The image was said to have pushed people to help Afhanistan after the soviet bombing, however the face that spurred all of that activity never benefited from it.

McCurry has travelled through Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Burma, India, Japan, Yemen, Vietnam… the list of the world’s most beautiful but damaged countries goes on…. and of course he won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting when he bravely crossed the Afgan border during the Russian invasion in the ’80s dressed as a local with reels of film sewn into his clothes. This is a photographer who goes to seriously great lengths for his work!

The ‘best’ photography around at the moment seems to be travel photography and I was discussing this with a little old man at work a few days before I saw this exhibition – I was grumbling about how ‘us poor students’ can’t afford to hop around the world searching for our subject matter and he told me that his niece is part of a website which allows her to go on free travel photography tours….

this doesn’t seem to exist (knew it was too good to be true!)

however I did find this… http://journals.worldnomads.com/scholarships/story/59940/Worldwide/Travel-Photography-Scholarship-2010-Kingdom-of-Bhutan

…every year World Nomads in association with National Geographic gives away a trip to an amazing destination with a professional photographer, all you have to do is shoot five photos which tell a story about a place you’ve been, write 300 words of persuasive ‘pick meeee!’ stuff and you’re in with a chance. Nice.

If you’re in Brum, go have a look – it’s free and B-E-A-U-tiful.  Every image looks as if it must have been lit, carefully orchestrated and then photoshopped but it’s just the stunning natural glow of these landscapes. I think it’s also really important to see these kinds of images as they remind us that while these countries are beyond beautiful, some like Afghanistan haven’t recovered at all from years and years of war and suffering. While many of us go through life maybe moaning that we can’t afford a new laptop or our morning Starbucks, at least we have shoes on out feet and a roof over our heads. That’s my little thought for the day.

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