The Uncanny Valley

Notes on art, culture and preservation

Culturas, Steve McCurry

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The photography of Steve McCurry is the meeting place of journalism and art. It is not just the skill of rendering a piece of the visual world into a colorful, captivating image; it is the hunger for seeing the world, for revealing something about it to a wider audience, something edifying and deep. If you’ve read National Geographic over the last thirty years, even taken a glance at some of the images now and then, chances are you’ve encountered his work. And chances are, whether for a passing moment or far longer, you’ve been struck.

The work of McCurry — as it happens, a Philadelphia native — is the subject of “Culturas”, an exhibit taking place at the wonderful Centro Cultural Borges. It is the first showing devoted to his work to open in Argentina. McCurry’s most renowned photograph will probably always be that of the displaced Afghan girl, taken in the mid-80s during the tumultuous Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Doubtless, the girl’s green, scintillating eyes define the photo, offering scores of unspoken words that delineate the plight of a refugee. And yet, by some trick or generous skill on McCurry’s part, the moment preserved in the photo is both dramatic and natural, beautified but unforced.

That quality carries across much of the work exhibited in “Culturas”. Across the vast scopes of the world that we safely deem “non-Western” — and as a consequence, have often passively deemed Cultural Others — McCurry carries his camera. His photos give light to cultures affected by the usual suspects of global inequality: war, poverty, disease, pollution. Yet while they can overwhelm with their bleakness, they don’t exploit the feeling of their subjects in an attempt to jar the viewer. They are more of a testament to people’s resilience in the face of hardship. The moments of rest, worship, and jubilation among people are documented just as well.

The conscientious mind perusing the stills in the gallery will exit with a sense of amazement at McCurry’s technical brilliance, while feeling a little less centric about his or her place in the world. No one can ever capture the whole world as it really is, of course. Unlike photographs, cultures are fluid and living. But a dignified, artistic rendering of the world as it is will still go a long way. As another superpower has its boots in Afghanistan in the present, it’s clear that some realities are not so quick to change.

[“Culturas” runs through March 31 at the Centro Cultural Borges, on the top floor of Galerías Pacífico, at Viamonte and San Martín. $10 general admission, $8 for students and seniors. For more images, see Steve McCurry’s homepage here.]

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Written by cwmote

March 25, 2010 at 1:20 pm

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