Ladies and gents, we are delighted to present a new IdeasMag feature: Iconic Image. Each month a photographer will tell us the story behind one of their best-known shots. To kick off, here’s renowned Magnum photographer Steve McCurry…
It was 1983. I was in Rajasthan in India.
I was doing a story on the monsoon. Before the monsoon, from April to June, it’s extremely hot and everything’s dry. This was was just before the onset of the monsoon, when it’s the hottest and dustiest part of the year. There is all this expectation and longing for the rain because it brings crops but also because it’s a relief from the heat.
The women in the image were working along the side of the road. I was on my way to another town and this just happened out of nowhere. I saw them, jumped out of my car, ran across this field and started taking pictures. I used a Nikon camera – I traditionally always used them because they’re reliable. It didn’t last very long. The dust storm usually only lasts a couple of minutes and then it passes.
I probably took 20 or 25 pictures but I liked the sense of movement and the configuration of women huddled together in this one – and there’s a nice colour palette. In such severe weather conditions, normally you would go for shelter or try to protect yourself or the camera, but I just knew that I had to capture this. There was a drama to the situation, with all the dust and wind and heat and these women huddling together for protection.
I can’t remember where this image was first published but it’s been published hundreds of times since. I knew at the time that this was a strong situation. With any kind of picture in severe weather, whether it’s rain or snow or wind, there’s an element of drama. I’ve worked in Asia, in India, for many years. I just go to places that interest me. I like the fact that the women are wearing traditional dress and that this gives a sense of the conditions that people live in.
Steve’s advice for young photographers
Look through the history of photography. There’s a lot to learn from the great masters. Look at their pictures, where they’ve gone, what they’ve done, their use of light and composition. If you like music and you want to be a musician, you probably listen to music. If you’re a writer you probably enjoy reading and have some sense of the world of literature. If you have an interest and a passion for photography, it would follow that you’d want to look at past work. If you find that boring then I would pick another hobby or profession.
More Iconic Image:
Main image: © Ahmet Sel; Dust Storm, Rajasthan, India: © Steve McCurry / Magnum Photos
Steve McCurry was talking to Rachel Segal Hamilton.
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