Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Steve McCurry Photo Exhibition Attracts Interest After Accusations Of Photo Tampering

The "Afghan Girl" hangs on the wall of the Palmer Museum of Art with her piercing green eyes wide open, the iconic maroon scarf loosely wrapped around her head and shoulders.

Steven Rubin is one of the curators of this photo exhibition. He says vivid colors and beautiful compositions are significant features of Steve McCurry’s photos.

“Many, many, many people know about these photographs, even if they don’t necessarily know the name of the person who made them. But they recognize his images," said Rubin.

Rubin is an associate professor of art at Penn State. He teaches photography and co-curated the exhibition with Joyce Robinson, a curator at the museum.

Robinson says creating a selection of no more than 50 photos was a challenge. McCurry has been taking photos for over four decades.  Robinson says they handpicked photos that fit the theme of "Still Moving."

“He had said, if you want to be a photographer you need to leave home, you need to go out and search for subjects – so we want to convey that idea,” Robinson said.

Rubin shared that vision.

“We thought it’d be important to include some of the images that were perhaps very contemporary, images that were from other parts of the world, images that are more than about just the glory of this exquisite moment that he can capture, the beautiful colors that he is able to render – but also that touch on some deeper social issues," Rubin said.

McCurry graduated from Penn State in 1974 and started his photojournalism career covering war zone conflicts in Afghanistan right before the Soviet invasion.

McCurry’s work has been circulated around the globe, but the curators say they didn’t expect the name "Still Moving" to have a second meaning.

“We didn’t anticipate that the ‘moving’ word would also be relevant to this question of moving pixels,” Rubin said.

Rubin is referring to a scandal that broke out in June, when evidence surfaced that McCurry’s work had been digitally manipulated.

In response to these accusations, McCurry told Time magazine he now defines himself as a "visual storyteller" and that his work is leaning toward fine arts photography.

About 40 people attended a recent gallery talk hosted by the two curators.

April Saul was among those visitors. After the talk, she and another photographer examined the "Afghan Girl" photo at the exhibition.

Saul is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist specializing in documentary photojournalism. She says the McCurry scandal hurts photojournalism as a whole.

“I think it is really a shame that McCurry manipulated his photos so much and set up so many of them," Saul said. "Because obviously he’s a very talented guy, and I think once you know those things about his work you start to question everything that he does. And I think he makes it harder for people like me.”

R. Thomas Berner is a former Penn State journalism professor and a photographer. He agrees photographers shouldn’t add or remove elements in photos, but he says they all make subjective choices like framing and processing every time they take a picture.

“One of the problems is, we assume a camera records the truth. It does not. A camera is a tool that enables us perhaps get to the truth, get to a truth,” Berner said.

Rubin says the beauty of McCurry’s work is that it takes people to where they’ve never been.

“In a time when the world is getting farther and farther apart, I think he helps to bring parts of the world closer to us,” Rubin said.

Robinson values it for its emotional impact.

“I think they are still profoundly moving images, and there’s something that one can still take away from these images,” Robinson said.

The ‘Still Moving’ photo exhibition by Steve McCurry is on display at Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art until September 18th. The curators will host a panel discussion on September 7th, as well as another gallery talk on September 16th

Related Content