'When the second plane hit, I ran down to photograph' – Steve McCurry on his 9/11 experience

Greg Dickinson
In Episode 4 of postcards, we speak to the travel photographer Steve McCurry
Postcards podcast - always pulls through latest episode

In the latest episode of 'Postcards', world-leading photographer Steve McCurry tells us the stories behind the shots

In the latest episode of our new travel podcast, one of the world's top photographers, Steve McCurry – famed for his 'Afghan Girl' photograph – tells us the stories behind three of his most stunning shots.

In each episode of ‘Postcards’, host Greg Dickinson flicks through the guest's archive of travel photographs and picks out the three that pique his interest.

These photographs, of precarious moments at sea, ill-advised student adventures, poignant moments looking out the window of a taxi, each have an untold story attached.

In his conversation with Steve, we begin with a shot taken during a monsoon in Mumbai. The second is of a tender moment between a man and an elephant in Thailand, and the third is a serene capture of a flower seller in Kashmir. Steve also talks to us about his experiences photographing the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Listen to the episode on the audio player above, or subscribe on Apple/Android, Spotify, Pocket Casts, or wherever you stream your podcasts. Here are Steve's images:

An unforgettable moment stuck in traffic

"This mother and child came up to my car window looking for some money, and instinctively I just raised my camera, photographed them. This all took place in five seconds. I lifted my camera, took two exposures, the light changed and we just took off.

"I barely remembered that moment – I didn’t see the film for two months. The window was foggy, and there are this child’s eyes looking through the foggy window. It was a really powerful picture, I thought.

Steve McCurry - Steve McCurry

"Looking at it later, I thought it showed two worlds intersecting. This woman who’s trying to make her way in the world with this child. The the traffic, the heat, the heavy rain, it’s dangerous out there in the traffic. And here I am, in this air conditioned bubble, heading back to my hotel. It was this collision of two worlds."

A tender moment between man and elephant

"In Thailand, there’s an elephant sanctuary where orphan elephants come. Each elephant is assigned an attendant, or mahout, who takes care of it. This picture is one of the mahouts with his elephant. He was relaxing in a branch of a tree, and it’s this tender moment where the mahout is resting and the elephant has come over, and is sort of waiting, or watching, or being together.

Steve McCurry - Steve McCurry

"The great thing about photography is that you freeze one particular moment. You freeze it, and capture it in time. I love the relationship between the mahout and the elephant. This fragile human being asleep in the tree, and this enormous, giant elephant being so tender. Of course, this is all projection on my part – I don’t know what was going through the mind of the elephant or the man."

Perching on the back of a boat in Kashmir

"I’d spent about three or four months photographing in Kashmir. I was staying right next to a lake, and every day I would see these flower sellers going around selling their flowers on these really colourful boats. I thought there’s definitely a picture in this situation.

"Eventually I went out to the market, met some of these vendors, and I photographed them from the boat I had hired. But eventually I thought – what would it be like if I actually got in one of their boats?

Steve McCurry - Steve McCurry

"One morning this one vendor went through a lagoon, and the background was very nondescript. As he was paddling the canoe his hand would go into the highlight of the picture, accenting it. For a few frames, for a few moments, I saw the shape of this man, his arm paddling, and I knew it was going to be a moment."

On photographing the 9/11 attacks

"I had literally just gotten off the plane the night before from China. I was jetlagged, I went to sleep, put my equipment off in the corner. And when I got up in the morning I went to my office, just a 15 minute walk away from the World Trade Centre. I was opening up my mail and we got the news that the World Trade Centre was on fire. So I grabbed my camera up on the roof, and within a few minutes the first tower imploded. I thought, this is impossible. This is a dream. After a few more minutes the second tower went down and I suddenly realised the world had changed, and that this catastrophic event had taken change.

"I grabbed my equipment and ran down to photograph. I wasn’t thinking about anything other than that, this had to be documented. This is an historic moment. And this needs to be recorded, it needs to be remembered. So I went down and spent the entire day, I was there until 8.30 at night, kind of in shock.

"I was more on automatic pilot, because that’s what I had always done. And I wanted some kind of record of what had happened that day. It was complete devastation."

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