Review: Steve McCurry @ Beetles + Huxley, London
Steve McCurry’s work dilates the intimate space at London’s Beetles + Huxley gallery to offer a vibrant overview of his career as a photojournalist.
McCurry has photographed warzones, Mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan, ship breaking yards and bared open ancient cultures. What’s motivating about his work is his resilience to wait for the right moment before shooting. The image Procession of Nuns photographed in Burma in 1994 shows nuns on their daily walk around the city of Rangoon. McCurry said: “pictures can offer themselves up to you – but only if you have patience. I asked these nuns if I could follow them on their daily walk around the city. I trailed them for several days until, with the rain falling and a brightly coloured building as a fitting backdrop, I captured this graceful image.”
McCurry’s famous image, Afghan Girl, has become one of the most recognised photographs of the 20th century after it appeared on the cover of National Geographic. It is an image that synopsises McCurry’s recurring topic of defiance in the face of adversity.
What you get when you visit the gallery is a chance to step up close and look into this infamous image and for a moment peek into a secret. Unlike the Louvre where there are barriers keeping you at a distance from the brushstrokes that make da Vinci’s Mona Lisa smile, here you can be a breath away from McCurry’s image. And as you look at the catchlight in those magnificent eyes it is apparent that there is an enigmatic quality to this photograph that can only be twigged by the photographer and subject. The irradiant shafts that appear in the penetrating green eyes of the Afghan girl offer a glimpse into the surrounding moments that made this image iconic. But you can never be sure of that moment. Perhaps that’s the beauty of it. The secret remains between photographer and subject.
There is a lot of contrast in McCurry’s work yet it has become McCurry-esque – tranquil, misty reflections of an Intha Fisherman in Burma juxtapose the fragmented wreckage at Ground Zero in 2001, but together they have a homogeneity; perhaps it is the taupe freckly light that appears in both photographs.
Personally, one of McCurry’s most startling images is Fisherman in Weligama on the south coast of Sri Lanka, photographed in 1995. Using a traditional method fishermen sit on a crossbar tied to a vertical pole projecting out of lathered Yale blue water. The stark blueness of the image offers a beautiful distinction to the rich brown skin of the fishermen. It is these colour distinctions that features in a lot of McCurry’s work.
Anyone with an interest in photojournalism, culture, travel, and war photography will appreciate this exhibition. The display doesn’t narrate every moment in McCurry’s long history as a photojournalist but rather a gestalt. While the intention is to sell his most recognised prints and some of us may be eager to discover lesser-known photographs, the iconic ones seen and explained here invoke study and interpretation. The gallery does a wonderful job of presenting and educating both the public and buyers of his work.
We give it 5 / 5 mangos.
Steve McCurry is showing at Beetles + Huxley until March 19, 2016. For more details about the gallery see below:
3-5 Swallow Street
Telephone: 020 7434 4319
Gallery Opening Times:
Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5.30pm