Steve McCurry’s Untold Stories [Review]
Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one. You’re in a small airplane on your way to photograph an assignment. Below you is an icy lake, the surface of which is growing uncomfortably close. The wheels clip the water and the plane noses over, shattering the propeller on impact. As the craft begins to sink, you panic momentarily before wrestling yourself free of the seat belt. You make your way through the frigid dark towards the surface and realize that your camera gear is now heading towards the bottom, some 65 feet below.
“I’d saved some money, so I bought a couple of hundred rolls of film and headed off to India.” – Steve McCurry
Though I’ve long been a fan of the photography of Steve McCurry, I knew very little about the man behind the lens. That is until Siobhan at Phaidon (thanks to Elizabeth as well) was kind enough to send me a copy of Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs. From the opening lines of the Foreword, recounting the events of the plane crash, I was hooked. Put simply, Untold is a wonderful volume – part biography, part monograph and part history lesson on some of the most important geopolitical events of the last 30 years.
Untold is a large book, coming in at 345 x 245 mm (roughly 13.5″ x 9.5″) and 262 pages. The layout, though not what I would call minimal, is clean, especially given the amount of content Phaidon manages to include. A simple bold title page begins each of the 14 sections and the subsequent page layout really lets the imagery, whether photographs or the fantastic ephemera – such as correspondence, currency or ticket stubs and the like – take center stage. That being said, the one thing I really do not like at all is the presentation of the many two-page images. They force the reader to either break the binding or to accept that they aren’t really seeing the full image. I would rather have seen them done as gatefold images, though that would have undoubtedly increased the cost of the book. Another option would have been to layout the entire book in landscape, rather than portrait format which, given the number of landscape-oriented images in the book, may have been a better choice.
If you are already a fan of McCurry’s work, you’ll find all of your favorite photographs in Untold. From documenting his five-month journey on the incredible trains of India to the iconic National Geographic cover of the Afghan Girl, turning the pages brings you back to some of the most moving images and photo essays of the past three decades. What you likely have not seen, however, is all of the aforementioned ephemera that adds a deeper context and understanding to not only the work itself, but the lengths McCurry went to in order to capture such amazing photographs. If you are new to his work, or have only seen a handful of his images, you are in for a treat.
Untold is packed with content that is absolutely wonderful to experience. Photographs are beautifully presented and each of the 14 narratives offers insight into the methods and process of McCurry, both as a photographer as well as an adventurous traveler. Personal standouts for me are the sections India by Rail and Beyond the Footsteps of Buddha. Both contain not only captivating narrative, but photos that speak to me on a very personal level.
Whether you are a fan of Steve McCurry by name or reputation, you will undoubtedly find Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs a welcome addition to your photographic library. The large hardcover retails for just US$ 59.95, which is very reasonable given the wonderful amount of inspiration you’ll find within its pages.