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Looking East: Portraits by Steve McCurry review

 

Looking East: Portraits by Steve McCurry – Phaidon 24.95 (€39.95)

River of Colour: The India of Raghubir Singh – Phaidon; 29.95

Made in Italy CGIL 100 – Trolley Books, 24

Mexico: Photographs by Martin Parr – Chris Boot Publishers; 25

 

Looking East is the new collection of portraits from acclaimed Magnum photographer Steve McCurry. Known and loved the world over for his exquisitely beautiful and enduring images of the landscapes and cultures of Southeast Asia, he is most famous for his enigmatic portrait from 1984 called Afghan Girl, Pakistan, judged to be the best cover shot ever of an issue of National Geographic.

 

McCurry launched his career as a photojournalist when, disguised in native garb, he crossed the Pakistan border into Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion. His coverage won him the Robert Capa Medal given to photographers exhibiting exceptional courage and enterprise.

 

McCurry’s latest book is a new large format portfolio which combines his award-winning iconic work with previously unpublished portraits of children, monks, pilgrims and travellers, all of whom were encountered on his travels through Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Tibet and Myanmar (Burma). As one would expect, each portrait is beautifully shot, exquisitely framed and full of the wonderful colours that typify the region. For those who are unfamiliar with McCurry’s work, or who like portraiture, then this book is for you. However, existing fans may come away feeling that they have seen it all before as this latest book does not offer any different kind of take on the photographer’s work.

 

Staying with the Asian theme, Phaidon has also re-released in hardback the highly acclaimed book River of Colour, celebrating the work of the late, great Indian photographer Raghubir Singh. The book provides the only retrospective of Singh’s work and pulls together a magnificent body of work presented in a specially designed panoramic layout. The book includes photographs taken from the source of the Ganges, the Himalayas, and the streets of Bombay, capturing the intuitive colour and vitality of the country and its people. Arranged into eleven thematic sections evocative of Indian culture – such as children, water, monuments and pilgrimage – the photographs provide a comprehensive picture of Indian daily life. In short, it’s a wonderful view of India.

 

Made in Italy is an independent photographic survey of contemporary Italy undertaken by five young prize-winning photographers. Timed to coincide with the centenary of the formation of the country’s largest trade union the CGIL, the book tries to look at how the values and attitudes of industrial Italy in 1906 have changed by 2006. Consequently, we see a very different society to the one espoused with noble principles at the beginning of the twentieth century. There are photos of illegal building projects that were started shortly before new building regulations came into force, run down factories, images of declining industrial strength, poverty, and people surviving on low pay and miserable conditions. Whether the book succeeds in giving an accurate portrayal of industrial Italy, it is hard to say. The project undertaken is perhaps too unwieldly for any one book to deal with, but the quality of photography and photojournalism is beyond doubt.

 

Martin Parr, in part the inspiration for the caricatures of British society made famous in Little Britain, has shifted the attention of his brand of dry wit and cruel sarcasm abroad. In his latest work – essentially a reworking of Think of England transplanted to Mexico – Parr examines the tawdry cultural imperialism that has descended onto the country from its northern neighbour, the US. The result is the glorification of the brightly coloured, garish and kitsch: Mickey Mouse toys enveloping portraits of Christ; Mexican workers wearing US baseball caps; Coca-Cola bottles dwarfing Madonnas, and other visual effects of a creeping globalisation subsuming an ancient civilisation and culture. Parr’s work is always amusing and wry, and admirers of his work will not be disappointed with this latest publication.

“For those who are unfamiliar with McCurry’s work, or who like portraiture, then this book is for you”

LookingEastPortraitsbySteveMcCurry
RiverofColour
MadeinItalyCGIL100
MexicoPhotographsbyMartinParr