Patience and luck are two commodities that American photo journalist Steve McCurry credits as the best tools in his armoury. That’s a very modest assessment of a career that has seen him travel the world gaining awards and professional acclaim for his insights into humanity. Now Tenerife can share his visions at Steve McCurry Retrospectiva, an exhibition of his most emotive work at the Espacio Cultural Caja Canarias, Santa Cruz until 29 June 2012.

The banner draped over the frontage of the bank HQ in Plaza de Patriotismo features Steve’s most famous and haunting image of an Afghan girl in a red shawl, taken at a Pakistan refugee camp in 1984. The eyes show a frail and frightened individual, even in war zones Steve has looked to capture the human element and he has a knack of finding that spark of dignity in the most desperate of settings.

The Caja Canarias art space is well versed in presenting large collections in their two floor showrooms and they adapt well to meet their subject. This time the display areas are dark with large back lit copies of the photos, a striking image of a dirty scrap of a boy in Peru holding a gun to his head dominates a wall at the end of an alcove adding to the disturbing impact of the shot.

Steve McCurry was born in Philadelphia and after two years at Pennsylvania College of Arts and Architecture he set off to India as a freelance photographer It was the start of a long love affair with Asia and the east, he has always admitted to a fascination with the intense colours in that part of the world.

Steve’s patience earned its reward in Rangoon, Burma where he asked to follow a group of local nuns on their daily walks. A few days into the routine a rain shower, small hand made umbrellas, and a brightly coloured old building converged together to spark his creative mood.

Search for the moment is one of Steve’s guiding principles and with that outlook his “luck” is more down to an instinctive feel for a situation and an eye for unexpected contrasts. That combination is perfectly illustrated with a Tibet shot from an old run down cafe where he found a poor dishevelled old man drinking a coke, poverty meets capitalism in one stark image.

The human spirit shines through in the darkest of times and settings in Steve’s photos, whether it is a tailor carrying his ancient sewing machine aloft as he wades across a monsoon swelled river in India or a Kabul man selling oranges from the charred boot of a bombed car.

The Afghan girl not only struck a chord with the outside world, it also drew Steve to seek her out 18 years later. Sharbat Gula is in purple this time and although her eyes have been dulled by the years of struggle, there is still a flicker of hope and defiance.


Steve McCurry Retrospectiva, Until 29 June 2012

Espacio Cultural Caja Canarias

Plaza del Patriotismo, Santa Cruz

Open Mon to Weds 11am to 1pm, and 5 to 9pm, Thurs & Fri 11 to 1, and 5 to 8pm

Sat 11am to 2pm, and 5 to 8pm

Entrance Caja Canarias clients free, non residents 5 euros, residents 2 euros, students & residents over 65 free.

The photos used in this article are from © Steve McCurry / Magnum Photos / Contacto