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Beauty Is In The Eye Of Steve McCurry

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Steve McCurry, a Magnum photographer best known for his striking images from the world’s remote places and conflict zones, most notably his portrait of an Afghan girl with piercing green eyes, has gathered decades of work in both a new book, Devotion from Prestel, and in an exhibition, Endless Traveler, at Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica, CA (on view until April 27th).

McCurry, was born in 1950, in Philadelphia PA. It was just a few years after graduating the College of Arts and Architecture at Pennsylvania State University and working for a newspaper, that McCurry traveled to India as a freelance photographer.

In India McCurry first learned, according to the Peter Fetterman Gallery press release, that “If you wait,” he realized, “people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.”

This spiritual quality, abstract and invisible yet present in his work, is part of what makes McCurry’s images so memorable. In Devotion, McCurry begins with an image of a doctor examining a newborn, and in the photos that follow, McCurry features grandparents, parents, children, monks, doctors and their patients, each in their own way, committing acts of devotion.

The book’s epigraph is from Pico Iyer: “Across every culture, we devote ourselves to our children, our faith, our families, and our greater purpose. We call it love, prayer, or service; in truth, it is surrender to what can never be fully known.”

About his book, McCurry has said: “Devotion is at the very heart of the spiritual part of our being which encompasses, loyalty, faithfulness, and dedication, all of which are values emphasized and shared by the world’s cultures and religions. This collection probes the core of what it means to be fully human as we create meaning in the midst of everyday life.”

McCurry’s works are always beautifully composed. He has a particular talent for spatial relations among disparate objects, and a gift regarding color. Blues, Reds and Yellows pop in his work and contrast with their surrounding backgrounds. Each photo is, in its own way, a marvel.

As beautiful as the images are in Devotion, to fully appreciate McCurry’s artistry it is worth a visit to the Peter Fetterman Gallery to see McCurry’s images in large format beautifully printed.

Fetterman has long been a fan of McCurry’s work. “McCurry taught me about color,” Fetterman now says. Among the gorgeous images on display in the gallery is “Boat Covered in Snow in Sankei-en Gardens,” 2014. It is a photo of a passenger less dugout canoe -like boat afloat in a lake in winter with snow covered houses and trees in the background. Tones of grey and white dominate. However, the bottom of the boat has a reddish tinge, and that touch of color makes all the difference giving the photo balance and artistry.

Another strikingly beautiful and strangely subtle composition is the image “Flower Vendor at Dal Lake,” 1999, in which flecks of green find their way from trees, to a river, to a green garment a woman is wearing in a doorway as a boat of flowers passes by. In person, the image is spellbinding and compelling, a short story unto itself.

Finally, in McCurry’s best-known image, also on display at Peter Fetterman Gallery, Afghan Girl, we are riveted by the intensity of her green eyes. But if you wonder why the portrait is so compelling, her green eyes are brought out by the red head scarf she is wearing and the light green background behind her. McCurry’s color sense makes the natural seem extraordinary.

Beirut, Lebanon, 10/1982, A mother peels potatoes by Steve McCurry

© Steve McCurry

Devotion is a feast, filled with one gorgeous engaging image after another. In one unforgettable image after another. There is a mother and her daughter peeling potatoes on their balcony in Beirut with bombed-out hollowed-out apartment buildings and their rubble behind them. In another, a nun, her white habit matching the clouds in the sky, marches up a path to a church on the slopes of Mt Kilanmanjaro.

Caretaker at Ta Prohm Temple. Angkor, Cambodia, 1999 by Steve McCurry

© Steve McCurry

And in yet another image in the book, a caretaker plays with a dog at Angor Wat in Cambodia while in the background massive tree roots slither across the ancient ruin in ways that suggest an alien life form. Past and present, man and animal, ruins and living vegetation provide the contrast for this remarkable photo.

In viewing the images in Devotion and at Peter Fetterman Gallery, I can only conclude that if, as the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.,” then I’d revise that to say “Beauty is in the eye of Steve McCurry.

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