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And Finally: Steve McCurry

Afghanistan
Photography

As someone who has reported on complex problems around the world for 40 years, do you think we live in particularly crazy times right now?

It certainly doesn’t seem to be getting much better but I guess we’re making progress. There seems to be more awareness but that doesn’t really translate into action. Some people care about climate change, for example, but most people don’t.

Have you been keen to take as many foreign assignments as possible recently to be away from the US and all things Trump?

It has had no bearing on my travel, but I do think most people are puzzled by Trump. I just don’t think it’s right for the President to have racist tendencies or to be questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship or place of birth. It’s unacceptable. But a lot of people don’t care. That’s just the world we live in.

Your latest book, Afghanistan, spans four decades of photography. Why has that country made such an impression on you?

I went to Afghanistan many times and it remains a place that’s important to me. The story is ever-unfolding, all these different chapters with the Russians, the Taliban, the Americans…

The amazing thing is that no-one seems to learn from the past. We all go in beating our chests and expecting a different result. It would be funny if it wasn’t tragic, in the sense of the loss of human life and wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be used on healthcare and education.

Are you surprised the country is still in such a mess, 40 years on?

I think Afghanistan should be able to run their own government and society by now. But the world is full of people trying to exert influence. We have India, Pakistan, China, Russia, the US… Everyone is trying to put their finger in the pie. This is the way the world works.

And successive Afghan governments must share some of the blame. Just because someone offers you lots of money, it doesn’t mean you necessarily have to take it and be influenced. But the reality of human nature is that we’re easily seduced.

Have you been surprised by the poor response from Aung San Suu Kyi and the international community to the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar?

The way the world works is that if you’re Palestinian and you feel you have a right to land, and other forces work against that, you have a problem. If you’re Mexican and you think that California or Arizona have been stolen from you or you’re [an indigenous] American and you feel the Americans broke every single treaty ever signed and there needs to be some justice there, good luck with that.

There’s a long list of injustices, and with the Rohingya, it’s like it’s a case of ‘get in the queue’.

You’re working on a new book on animals rather than people. Is this a change in direction?

It’s not really a new direction… I was just looking back over animals I’ve photographed in my career and thought they would work well in a book. It’s mostly domesticated and working animals, such as elephants in the lumber business in [Myanmar] or stray dogs and a couple of monkeys here and there. It’s about animals caught up in the world of humans.

Does photographing animals excite you in the same way as photographing people?

Yes. Everything excites me. A crack in the sidewalk excites me. Graffiti. Clouds. I just think everything in the world is fascinating and worth looking at and examining.

Steve McCurry’s book Afghanistan is out now (Taschen). His book on animals is expected to be released later this year. His website is stevemccurry.com

Graeme Green is a photographer and journalist. His website is: graeme-green.com

 

New Internationalist issue 513 magazine cover This article is from the May 2018 issue of New Internationalist.
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