Steve McCurry’s magic India moments – Glamorous & worrying

Steve McCurry - Holu, a festival that welcomes spring, is celebrated with public spraying of colorful powders. Rajasthan, India, 1996
Steve McCurry – Holu, a festival that welcomes spring, is celebrated with public spraying of colorful powders. Rajasthan, India, 1996

Why Steve McCurry is fascinated with India

Photographer Steve McCurry has been traveling to various parts of the globe photographing and capturing different subjects and people. His photography has led him down hidden pathways and streets, searching for what he calls the magic moment when color, light, and emotion work together in perfect harmony to create a beautiful picture.

His search is usually long and could take him weeks. However, of all the places in the world that McCurry has traveled to and resided in, none fascinates him more than India. According to the artist, India has supplied him with more opportunities and magic moments than he has ever experienced in any part of the globe.

Different aspects of India

Visually, India is an incredibly rich and diverse country, meaning there is no shortage of beautiful things and people to capture. Additionally, as there is a huge disparity between the rich and the poor, there are many societal issues to uncover and highlight. McCurry’s images of India cover almost 30 years of work.

India’s ancient spirit

His images of India strive to cover the large country and its massive numbers of people and the different cultures of its people. McCurry always returned to India because it remained mostly unchanged regardless of the endless technological advancements that have occurred over the years. India’s ancient spirit is what helped the photographs come alive because, without it, most of his images would have been generic at best in any other location.


Vibrant Colors

Steve McCurry’s photographs from India are often awash with vibrant colors, capturing the essence of the nation’s rich palette. Whether it’s the radiant hues of a bustling market, the deep tones of a sunset over the Ganges, or the myriad colors of traditional attire, McCurry’s use of color brings his images to life, encapsulating the sensory overload that is quintessentially India.

Emotional depth

Each of McCurry’s images from India conveys profound emotional resonance. He has an uncanny ability to capture the soul of his subjects, be it the intense gaze of a Rajasthani woman, the joyous laughter of children playing, or the contemplative demeanor of an elder. These emotions, so vividly portrayed, invite viewers to connect deeply with the people and stories in the photographs.


Beyond mere visual representation, every photograph by McCurry tells a story. Whether it’s a snapshot of daily life, a festival in full swing, or a quiet moment amidst chaos, each image offers a narrative, providing viewers with a glimpse into the multifaceted tapestry of Indian life and its myriad tales.

Cultural insight

McCurry’s photos serve as a window into India’s diverse and rich cultural fabric. From the intricate rituals of traditional ceremonies to the daily routines in urban and rural settings, his lens captures the essence of Indian culture, offering viewers a comprehensive and intimate understanding of its traditions, values, and customs.

Steve McCurry - Bicycles hang on the side of a train traveling from Dacca to Peshawar, West Bengal, India. April 1993
Steve McCurry – Bicycles hang on the side of a train traveling from Dacca to Peshawar, West Bengal, India. April 1993

Dynamic composition

Compositionally, McCurry’s images are masterpieces. He skillfully uses elements like natural lines, framing, and the rule of thirds to guide the viewer’s gaze. Whether it’s the silhouette of the Taj Mahal against a fiery sky or the organized chaos of a Mumbai street, the composition of each photo is both deliberate and evocative.

Steve McCurry - Portrait Photographer, 1992
Steve McCurry – Portrait Photographer, 1992

Human connection

At the heart of McCurry’s work in India is the human element. His portraits and candid shots capture the spirit, resilience, and beauty of the Indian people. From the piercing eyes of a Kashmiri boatman to the playful antics of children in a village, McCurry’s photos celebrate the human connections that bind us all.

Steve McCurry - Rajasthan, India 2
Steve McCurry – Rajasthan, India

Environmental Context

India’s diverse landscapes, from its bustling cities to its serene countryside, play a significant role in McCurry’s work. He captures the symbiotic relationship between the people and their environment, highlighting how the two are inextricably linked, shaping and being shaped by each other in a continuous dance.

Contrast and Juxtaposition

McCurry often employs contrast and juxtaposition in his photographs from India. By placing tradition alongside modernity or capturing moments of calm amidst the hustle and bustle, he reflects the complexities and dualities inherent in Indian society, offering a nuanced perspective on its evolving identity.

Steve McCurry - Painted Boy, Bombay, India, 1996
Steve McCurry – Painted Boy, Bombay, India, 1996


Despite the vast and diverse subjects he covers in India, there’s an intimate quality to McCurry’s photographs. He often gets close to his subjects, capturing moments that feel personal and relatable. This intimacy bridges the gap between the viewer and the subject, fostering a deep sense of connection.

Steve McCurry - Mother and Child at Car Window, Bombay:Mumbai, India, 1993
Steve McCurry – Mother and Child at Car Window, Bombay/Mumbai, India, 1993


One of the hallmarks of McCurry’s work in India is its timeless appeal. While many of his photos capture contemporary moments, they transcend temporal boundaries, resonating with viewers across different eras. This timelessness ensures that his images remain relevant, evocative, and cherished for generations to come.

Steve McCurry - Boy in mid flight, Jodphur, India, 2007
Steve McCurry – Boy in mid flight, Jodphur, India, 2007

What makes his work special

His photographs are well varied from unknown winding staircases to sandstorms in the Rajasthani desert. McCurry’s colorful photographs helped to show India in a new light. In tandem with his book Steve McCurry: India, the artist has managed to leave a lasting impression on the world that will inspire thousands of new photographers to travel to unexplored lands.

Video: Interview with Steve McCurry

An Interview With | Steve McCurry | TEDxAmsterdamWomen

24 min 56 sec

Steve McCurry’s style

One signature element of McCurry that makes his works stand out is his portrait-like style. His subjects seem to stare unashamedly at the camera as if they have had a lasting relationship with the photographer. For this reason, his photographs are candid and appear to have some close intimacy that obviously does not exist between the photographer and his subjects.

The images McCurry has collected over the last thirty years have continued to grow in popularity, probably because they represent a genuine panorama of the often misunderstood state. Both glamorous and worrying, McCurry’s images have forced people to truly question their role in society and their contributions to it.

Video: Steve McCurry unpacks Dust Storm, Rajasthan, India

In 1984, while journeying between Jodpur and Jaisalmer, Steve McCurry found himself amidst an unexpected and intense dust storm. Amidst the blinding sand and roaring winds, he spotted a group of women huddled by the roadside, shielding themselves from the storm’s fury. Despite the risk to his camera, McCurry couldn’t resist capturing this powerful moment. He recalls 1:

Sometimes in these situations you have to rely purely on instinct and intuition. You’re not really thinking, you’re just sort of reacting to the situation.

He quickly exited his taxi and, with his camera in hand, took a series of shots, both vertical and horizontal, of the women amidst the storm. The resulting images were both visually stunning and emotionally evocative, encapsulating the raw power of nature and the resilience of the human spirit.

Steve McCurry unpacks 'Dust Storm', Rajasthan, India

1 min 50 sec

All images by Steve McCurry unless otherwise noted.

More by Steve McCurry



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