On Portraiture


 What could be more simple and more complex,
more obvious and more profound than a portrait.
– Charles Baudelaire 

USA-10023Los Angeles, California, USA

The countenance is the portrait of the soul, and
the eyes mark its intentions.
– Marcus Tullius Cicero

_DSC8828, Havana, Cuba, 07/17/2015, CUBA-10303. Portrait of old woman looking out of window. retouched_Ekaterina Savtsova 07/29/2015 SENDING TO MAGNUMCuba


The most difficult thing for me is a portrait.
You have to try to put your camera between the
skin of a person and his shirt.
– Henri Cartier-Bresson

AFGHN-12691NF2Kabul, Afghanistan

Portraits reveal a desire for human connection;
a desire so strong that people who know they will never see me again

open themselves to the camera,  all in the hope that at the other end
someone will be watching,

someone who will laugh or suffer with them.


A good portrait is one that says something about the person. 
We usually see parts of ourselves in others, so the
good portrait should also say something about the human condition.



A true portrait should today and a hundred years from today, be the
testimony of how this person looked and
what kind of human being he was.

 Philippe Halsman

Farmer, Baluchistan, Pakistan, 1980 MAX PRINT SIZE: 40X60 IG: Moments before I took the photograph, this farmer was working his field, separating the chaff from the wheat. The detail in the strands of the fabric in his turban and the similar pattern in his vest caught my eye. The red jewel in his gold ring becomes a delicate focal point. There is a formal unity to this farmer's attire that caught McCurry's eye. In the first instance there is a parallel between the muted colours of the man's turban, shirt and vest and the surrounding landscape. On closer inspection we see how the complex folds of the turban find a subtle echo in the pattern on his vest. Finally, the red jewel in his ring serves as a delicate focal point for the whole image. "Moments before the photograph was made, this farmer was working his field, separating the chaff from the wheat. The detail in the strands of finely wrapped fabric in his turban and the sympathetic pattern in his vest caught McCurry's eye, a compelling lyric within a narrow band of muted color. As the farmer leaned upon his staff, McCurry noticed its corresponding texture and hue, and then when he grasped the staff and revealed the bright punctuation of his ring, McCurry knew he had a photograph. Now, years later, McCurry reflects that the photograph can no longer be made in Pakistan. 'It is very different today', he notes." - Phaidon 55 Magnum Photos, NN11433290, MCS1980005K10002 Nomadic pastorialist in the arid mountainous southwest province of Pakistan which borders Iran to the west and Afghanistan to the south. Steve McCurry: Photographs of Asia. Boca Raton Museum of Art. 2004, 21. Portraits_Book South Southeast_Book Steve Mccurry_Book Looking East_Book Iconic_Book PORTRAITS_Book final print_Milan final print_Birmingham final print_HERMITAGE final print_Zurich Stern Portfolio_Book Fine Art Print final print_Ankara retouched_Sonny Fabbri 3/27/2015Pakistan

Photography and the genre of portraiture have enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship.
From the beginning of depiction, the portrait has invited its audience to recognize the
identity of the subject and then to remember.
– Anthony Bannon


Most of my portraits are not formal situations;
they are found situations. 


There is no single form or style of portraiture.
Portraiture means individualism and as such means diversity,
self-expression, private point of view.

The most successful images seem to be those
which exist on several planes at once …

– Peter Bunnell


As human beings we are fascinated with how we and others look.
Diane Arbus talked about the gap between intention and
effect as revealed in portraiture.

AFGHN-10227 Afghanistan

People put on make-up and adorn themselves because they want to create an effect and
give a certain impression, but often other people look at them and
say it’s tragic or comical or curious or funny or odd.
Portraiture can be that kind of sharp critique.

DSC_4040, Lavazza, Vietnam, 2013, VIETNAM-10087. A girl with a dog resting. Coffee_Book retouched_Sonny Fabbri 7/2015Vietnam

00355_07. Yemen, 04/1997, YEMEN-10084. Portrait of a young girl in a straw hat. MAX PRINT SIZE 40x60 retouched_ Sonny Fabbri 3/4/2015 From These Hands. A Journey Along the Coffee Trail. Phaidon Press Limited.


About the author

Steve McCurry has been a one of the most iconic voices in contemporary photography for more than 30 years, with scores of magazine and book covers, over a dozen books, and countless exhibitions around the world to his name.

Born in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; McCurry studied film at Pennsylvania State University, before going on to work for a local newspaper. After several years of freelance work, McCurry made his first of what would become many trips to India. Traveling with little more than a bag of clothes and another of film, he made his way across the subcontinent, exploring the country with his camera.

It was after several months of travel that he found himself crossing the border into Pakistan. There, he met a group of refugees from Afghanistan, who smuggled him across the border into their country, just as the Russian Invasion was closing the country to all western journalists. Emerging in traditional dress, with full beard and weather-worn features after weeks embedded with the Mujahideen, McCurry brought the world the first images of the conflict in Afghanistan, putting a human face to the issue on every masthead.

Since then, McCurry has gone on to create stunning images over six continents and countless countries. His work spans conflicts, vanishing cultures, ancient traditions and contemporary culture alike - yet always retains the human element that made his celebrated image of the Afghan Girl such a powerful image.

McCurry has been recognized with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal, National Press Photographers Award, and an unprecedented four first prize awards from the World Press Photo contest, to name a few.