Steve McCurry

The renowned photographer reflects on the seven journeys – physical, emotional and spiritual – that have shaped his life and work

Words by Lisa Grainger | Illustration by Tina Berning
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1. London, 1969


I had never traveled outside America before, but in 1969 I spent a year backpacking through Europe – France, and Spain, and Amsterdam – ending up in a youth hostel in Soho, London, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. There were people camped out in the lobby, in the recreational area, on the floor. I slept under the pool table. I remember the pubs, which were amazing, and thinking how weird it was buying a soft drink that wasn’t cold. In the US, everything was on ice.


2. Panama, 1972


Hitchhiking was pretty common in those days, and I wanted to learn Spanish, so I caught lifts from Philadelphia to Panama. There wasn’t a real plan; I just wandered, taking it all in and talking Spanish. The country was fascinating: it’s partly on the Caribbean, partly on the Pacific, with lots of Spanish festivals and parades. I took a camera, a Miranda, and took lots of pictures, in black and white, which I still have, loose in boxes.


3. Africa, 1973


This was my first trip to Africa – and a big one. I took a boat with a buddy from New York to Haifa, then to Cyprus. He stayed there and I went to Athens, then Cairo, and took a boat down the Nile to Aswan, went to Sudan, Uganda, Nairobi, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. No one did that in those days, so it was difficult. The Sud swamp was particularly crazy. We were in this old steamer, going on a path through the swamp that narrowed, then opened. If you got stuck you could be there for ever, just you and the mosquitoes.


4. Asia, 1978


This was the trip that launched me into the world of photography. It was meant to be a short trip round India and instead ended up being a two-year journey through India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Thailand, all over Asia… The thing that impressed me most was the immensity of the Subcontinent, from Calcutta to Ladakh, with its extraordinary variety of people and cultures. By then I had a Nikon, which I’ve stuck with since, and was shooting in color.


5. Yemen, 1997


The thing that struck me about Yemen was that here was an Arab country, but with a culture unlike any other. It was so distinct, unlike the Emirates or Saudi Arabia, which are really quite western. Everything about Yemen – the architecture, the food, the way people dressed – was original and individual. I ended up staying three or four months, getting great images.


6. Tibet, 2001


I went twice into Tibet, once flying into Kathmandu and once overland from Chengdu. I’m very interested in Buddhism and Tibet is its epicenter, the heart of the culture. I stayed at lots of monasteries and found the people’s devotion incredible: very profound and moving. You’re also surrounded by the Himalayas, which is the mightiest mountain range in the world, so going there is always quite an experience.


7. Ethiopia, 2012


This was my first trip to the country – with a friend who runs an NGO called OMO Child – and what struck me was that the way all these tribes live traditionally, like they have always done for hundreds of years. I was lucky – my friend has a great rapport with the tribes, so wherever we went they were hospitable and relaxed, with a great sense of humor, and I was able to take photographs all over the region.


Steve McCurry’s photographs for Vacheron Constantin can be viewed at