Creating a definitive list of greatest photographers is difficult since most will have rather assertive opinions on why one or the other should be included or omitted. Debatably, however, a few names will almost certainly end up on many a list, and I’m willing to bet Steve McCurry will be one. Best known for his images out of war zones like Afghanistan in the 90s, like ‘Afghan Girl’, McCurry is as relevant today as ever, and in a way, more influential.
While he often refers to his favorite image being the ‘Women In A Dust Storm’ which he shot in ’83 in a desert in Rajasthan, depicting a group of women huddled together to shield each other from the violence of whipping sand, there’s no doubt ‘Afghan Girl’ is the shot that he’ll be remembered most for. It is National Geographic’s most popular cover image, and the image is one of the most identifiable, even earning the nickname, ‘the First World’s Third World Mona Lisa.’ Shot on Kodachrome 64 with a Nikon FM2 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.5, it’s a wonder of an image, but hearing the story from McCurry himself is a few minutes well spent that may serve for years of inspiration.
In a recent segment of NPR’s All Things Considered, McCurry was interviewed and spoke about the story behind the famous image of Sharbat Gula, and how he speaks of it, how the colors of her shawl and background came into perfect harmony, is enough to make you want to stop listening right there and grab your camera and set out to a distant land to find a muse. Perhaps most enjoyable for me was the moment he speaks about not knowing just what he had since it was pre-digital, and then how in photography, sometimes all the stars align.
Occasionally in life and occasionally in my photography, the stars align and everything comes together in a miraculous way.
And this is the way it is I find with all the masters of their craft, they are less about the technical, and more about emotion. That being said, as it was one of the images that really made me want to photograph anything, and women, in particular, I’d always wanted that Nikkor 105mm f/2.5, which Nikon stopped making only in 2005. You can actually get them at decent prices now, and of course, Nikon’s current 105mm line-up like the 105mm AF DC f/2 and Nikkor Micro AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8 are both brilliant lenses and certainly ones to own. I think there was probably less of a desire for these lenses when the 80-200mm f/2.8 and 70-200 f/2.8 lenses came out, but I’d still make room.
McCurry has always been a fan of Nikon, and I believe he still shoots primarily Nikon and Hasselblad when he needs. He favors Nikon primes like the 50mm f/1.4 and the 24-70mm f/2.8, which, if I’m honest, is the one lens I’d have if I have to have only one.