A geisha coming out of the subway in the Japanese city of Kyoto, a child who seems to fly through the streets of Jodhpur, in India, a woman from the Padaung tribe – with a ‘giraffe neck’ – who reads in Thailand or a child who skates before a wall where you can read ‘Life’s a joke’ in Cuba are some of the scenes captured by the American photographer Steve McCurry around the world. Today, the images immortalized by his camera are featured for the first time in a monographic exhibition in the city of Barcelona.
Until May 7, the new FotoNostrum exhibition room and photographic gallery is hosting 80 photographs by Steve McCurry, under the title ‘Around the world in 80 images’, so that in addition to allowing the viewer to travel around the globe, it also seeks pay homage to the novel by French writer Jules Verne. The American photographer is known worldwide for the portrait of the ‘Afghan Girl’ that was on the cover of the magazine National Geographic in June 1985, although the exhibition presents images taken in various parts of the world, from Pakistan through Italy to Madagascar.
The exhibition constitutes a compilation of McCurry’s professional career, since it includes images taken between 1981 and 2019.
‘Around the world in 80 images’ has been curated by Steve McCurry himself and Julio Hirsch-Hardy, director of FotoNostrum, which belongs to the organization ‘The Worldwide Photography Gala Award’ and is based in the United Kingdom. According to the presentation of the exhibition, McCurry’s photography is always characterized by “the human”, although sometimes people are only subtly evoked. In this way, each image tells the viewer “a powerful story.”
McCurry has traveled the world for nearly five decades and, according to Hirsch-Hardy, has become “one of the most important contemporary photographers”. However, the North American usually portrays everyday scenes even in those places where wars are taking place, as is the case in Yemen or Afghanistan. Hirsch-Hardy praises the photographer’s ability to “show us another side, the non-truculent one, of reality” and states that “even at the points where a conflict is taking place, everyday life continues”.
The director of FotoNostrum has recounted in an interview granted to this newspaper that they decided to dedicate their first major exhibition to McCurry to begin with a proposal that would attract the attention of the public. And also because the American photographer is the author of “iconic works that are part of the collective memory.” Among the 80 photographs on display are two unpublished images taken in Barcelona in 2018: one of the terrace of La Pedrera-Casa Milà and another of a day castellera.
The “most tragic” photograph, explains Hirsch-Hardy, is one taken in Kuwait during the Gulf War, in 1991, in which you can see a burning oil field in the background, the sky covered with black clouds and, in the foreground, plane, some camels. This is the image that comes closest to “the vision that is normally seen in the media,” says Hirsch-Hardy, although “McCurry always acts and looks with a certain distance,” she adds.
In 2016, McCurry led a controversy in the world of photojournalism when it was discovered that he had manipulated some of his photographs through digital editing. The American defended himself by assuring that he is not a photojournalist, but rather a “storyteller”, although he had won prizes in this field.
The director of FotoNostrum Julio Hirsch-Hardy has explained that this room, which has reopened in Barcelona after many months closed due to the pandemic, is not only an exhibition space for established authors, such as McCurry, Helmut Newton [el fotógrafo alemán que cambió la fotografía de moda] or Richard Avedon, which can be seen in the coming months, but also includes a space for “emerging photographers to make themselves known”.
In this case, Peter Voss, Ranjan Ramchandani, Marilyn Maxwell, Lisa Praster, Istvan Kerekes, Yoni Blau, Carol Allen-Storey, Victoria Vykhodtseva and Henrique Murta have been the first chosen to accompany the American photographer.
In FotoNostrum, visitors can, in addition to visiting its exhibitions, buy photographs, that is, it also functions as a “commercial gallery of photographic work”, says Hirsch-Hardy. “It is not exactly that the viewer can take home the photo that he sees hanging on the wall,” the curator clarifies. “If someone wants to buy, say, one of Steve McCurry’s photographs, we notify the author, who will print, sign and certify it in the United States, and then ship it to the buyer,” he explains.
According to the director of FotoNostrum, this space was born in 2019 with the aim of becoming a “reference for the world of photography in Barcelona”. The organization behind this project, The Worldwide Photography Gala Awards (WPGA), had already directed exhibitions in other cities such as Madrid, Buenos Aires, Malaga or Berlin, but Hirsch-Hardy assures that they realized that it was “more convenient and profitable ” have a fixed space and leave behind that “nomadic and itinerant” spirit.