Upstairs, Downstairs

Burma

For centuries, stairs have symbolized journeys, rites of passage,
transitions,
and stages of  life in art, literature, and music.

Tibet

My Soul. I summon to the winding ancient stair;
Set all your mind upon the steep ascent,
Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,
Upon the breathless starlit air,
‘Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;
Fix every wandering thought upon
That quarter where all thought is done:
Who can distinguish darkness from the soul
William Butler Yeats

Italy

Stairs are climbed step by step.
– Turkish Proverb

Kashmir

Children’s stories tell tales of boys and girls discovering treasures upstairs in the
attic and fearing what is downstairs in the basement.

Afghanistan

Faith is taking the first step even when
you don’t see the whole staircase.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Burma

Morocco

India 

Man, unlike anything organic or inorganic in the universe,
grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts,
emerges ahead of his accomplishments.
– John Steinbeck

Italy

Jodhpur, India

My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be
through Earth’s loveliness.
– Michelangelo

Italy

Mt. Popa, Burma
The stairway climbs a 300-foot lava plug crowned by Buddhist temples.

Serbia

Mother to Son
Well, Son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor –
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now –
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
– Langston Hughes

New York, September 12, 2001 

Japan 

New York

Halfway down the stairs
is a stair
where i sit.
there isn’t any
other stair
quite like
it.
i’m not at the bottom,
i’m not at the top;
so this is the stair
where
I always
stop.

Halfway up the stairs
Isn’t up
And it isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery,
It isn’t in town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head.
It isn’t really
Anywhere!
It’s somewhere else
Instead!
A.A. Milne

Italy

Haiku
Steep steps
Uneven treads
Life
– bmv

India 

Iraq 

India 

Afghanistan

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.