Chautauqua….Photo Week: Monday, July 26, 2010, 1:25 pm

Posted by on Jul 26 2010 | Other, Photography

I’m sitting outside the Hall of Philosophy ….a miniature Acropolis –like structure….35 minutes away from Alison Nordstrom’s talk on the ethics of looking at photographs…and it’s getting pretty packed already.  There seems to be a thirst – acute among Chautauquans, but universal to us all – to examine our connections to the world around us through images.

This morning the amphitheatre was packed with thousands of people listening intently to Steve McCurry discuss his work…including his iconic image of the green-eyed Afghan girl.  I’ve met and heard Steve twice before at Eastman House, and it’s always a privilege to live vicariously through his images – and the stories that go with them.

“I heard voices coming from inside a hut,” he said as he began telling the story that led him through a refugee camp in Pakistan to that iconic image.  He looked into the hut and discovered a school for Afghani girls…girls who had never before been photographed and may not have ever seen a camera.  The shy twelve year old with the piercing blue-green eyes giggled a bit as she became his muse….and why is it that this picture resonates with people of every age, gender and ethnicity to this day?

What makes it an icon?  Steve believes it is in part her eyes, from which light seems to spring forth.  And maybe it’s because this child is clearly on the cusp of maturity – he’s caught a moment of innocent sensuality on the face of a girl whose life has simply been pain and war and the death of her loved ones.  Somehow we see all that in her lovely, dirty face, without ever needing to see the photographs he took before and after that exposure.  And when we do see them – as I’m sharing on this blog post – what more do we now know?  I’m not sure, but for me the story is now more complete.

But maybe that’s just me – I like seeing the variant images – the unedited exposures surrounding the icons.  So here’s a couple more that McCurry shared – maybe a little tricky to see online here, but just so you know, Steve prefers the wider, more complex image.

The audience agreed…but my guess is that most of us amateurs would never have even “seen” that photograph to take it – we would have thought the person in the foreground was cluttering our pristine picture.

“I think a good color photograph should stand up as a black and white photograph,”  ~ Steve McCurry

I think most people think of McCurry as a color photographer – so I was surprised to hear him say he doesn’t think of himself that way…he doesn’t search out color, he searches out stories.  But, as he notes, the world is in color.

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    Pamela Sanchez is a member of the Senior Staff of George Eastman House. She's a blogging neophyte just venturing into the 21st century.

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