Many of the world’s most highly regarded photographers work in near-anonymity. You might not know their faces or even their names, but you’d almost certainly recognise their work.
Steve McCurry is one such photographer. He took one of the world’s most recognised photographs, the green-eyed Afghan girl featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985.
Famous though his work may be, it’s unlikely that many guests on Silversea Cruises sailings and excursions over the past three years knew he was among them, perhaps seated nearby in a restaurant, joining them on Zodiacs and, on one of his most memorable trips, competing against them during trivia hour.
McCurry and Silversea entered a partnership in 2017 for him to photograph some of the 900-plus destinations the luxury line visits every year, for use in its brochures, on its website and on social media channels.
McCurry and a sea lion in the Galapagos Islands in 2019.
McCurry was no stranger to Silversea, having cruised with the line a few times as a lecturer as early as the 1990s. It’s the only cruise line he’s ever sailed on.
But this was his first and only in-depth partnership with a travel provider.
Although he’s best-known for chronicling strife — antithetical to a luxury cruise — Silversea Cruises’ chief marketing officer, Barbara Muckermann, knew that McCurry would offer Silversea photographs that draw out “the soul of the places we visit.”
“We always say our customers collect people, not monuments, and that’s how we landed on Steve,” she said. “Because there is nobody who can [capture] the amazing uniqueness of the cultures and places we visit like Steve.”
Boys showing off their fish, Belo Sur Mer Beach, Morondava, Madagascar, 2019. Photo Credit: Steve McCurry
Muckermann and McCurry laughed easily with each other on a Zoom call in October, recalling some of the times they’d spent together over the past few years and excitedly planning the future cruises he’d be taking once cruising can begin again.
Muckermann had long admired McCurry even before a mutual contact of hers and the writer Paul Theroux, one of McCurry’s closest friends, connected them.
He’s since spent 50 days on ships and has also taken two of Silversea’s Couture Collection trips to two landlocked countries, Mongolia and Uganda; he visited mountain gorillas in the latter.
Muckermann said McCurry has full editorial control of his work for the line.
“The idea is to show the world through the lens of Steve because, as a brand, we feel very close to that vision,” she said.
McCurry quickly realised that there was an advantage to traveling with Silversea.
A crab climbing over lizards, Galapagos Islands, 2019. Photo Credit: Steve McCurry
“A lot of the most fascinating parts of the world are only accessible by the sea, by ships, by cruising,” he said, among them the Galapagos, Antarctica and the Arctic.
“In those places, photographically, the journey was amazing,” he said. “Some of my best pictures were made on the ship as we were moving to another location. Sometimes it was hard — you were actually out there on the deck all day long because so many things were happening.”
McCurry also found that arriving by sea rather than air gave him a better perspective, referencing a world cruise segment from Shanghai to Hong Kong.
“I love that part of the world and had been to those countries before, but to do it by ship is different,” he said. “Flying at 35,000 feet and coming down and landing at the airport can be boring. Coming in by ship is exciting. You slowly immerse yourself in the geography. The weather and the landscape changes. It’s more like a train — it’s a way to connect with the landscape.”
Despite a career that has taken him all over the world, Silversea ships brought McCurry to many places he’d never been, including the Galapagos (where he went twice with Silversea), Antarctica, the Arctic, Mongolia, Madagascar and Easter Island.
McCurry describes the Antarctica sailing on the Silver Cloud as one of the most memorable, owing to his fellow passengers and the ship’s crew, which he described as “extraordinary.” He said he tried to never miss lectures with the botanists and historians onboard, who were “great storytellers.” To this day he keeps in touch with his trivia team.
Although McCurry does a lecture on most cruises he’s taken and holds some photography workshops, the cruises he goes on are not advertised as such, so getting onboard with McCurry takes some luck.
A man reading on a bench on a street corner in Sicily, 2017. Photo Credit: Steve McCurry
Capturing how Silversea sees the world
Muckermann said Silversea has two partnerships that enable guests to “understand places with different lenses.” One is with McCurry; the other is with Adam Sachs, former editor in chief of Saveur magazine and curator of the line’s Sea and Land Taste (SALT) programme, which reflects a destination’s traditions through its gastronomy.
Both McCurry’s photos and the SALT experiences, Muckermann said, are a response to what she calls “a complete shift in the definition of luxury and in what the customers want.”
The “silent generation” of luxury travellers in the 1990s had experienced wars and the building of walls and “were afraid of going out in the world,” Muckermann said. Cruises were a safe way to travel the world “and bring their lifestyle with them.” The baby boomers, she said, “have a completely different view, and really want to understand the authenticity [within] the places they visit. This is why we felt that Steve, because of his photojournalism background, could be the absolute perfect photographer to portray the world as Silversea sees it.”
Left, A young boy in Cotopaxi, Ecuador, 2017. Right, Petra, Jordan, 2019. Photo Credit: Steve McCurry
Emblematic of how Silversea wants to portray itself, Muckermann said, was that since launching the collaboration with McCurry, “it’s very difficult to find a picture of a ship in any of our communications.”
“We know that our customers are travellers, and they are always looking for the next experience,” she said. “There is no photographer better than Steve to show this shift in what customers want.”
Perhaps because he’s a boomer himself, McCurry has an appetite for authenticity and adventure.
One of the highlights of his Silversea experiences was a weeklong trip following the reindeer people of Mongolia. Silversea may be known for offering the height of luxury, but on that particular adventure, McCurry said, “we were living in tents and freezing our asses off.”
McCurry and Muckermann pick their favourite pics
People often ask McCurry what his favourite photograph is.
It’s like asking a travel advisor to name a favourite destination, and like many advisors, he doesn’t have an answer.
But while chatting with him over Zoom, he pointed to a picture he’d taken of an iceberg in Antarctica, which happened to be hanging on a bulletin board in Muckermann’s office.
“That’s one of my favourite pictures of all time,” he said.
One of McCurry’s favorite photographs of all time, of an iceberg in Antarctica taken from the deck of the Silver Cloud. Photo Credit: Steve McCurry
He recalled that he was on his way to meet his wife and another passenger for lunch, “when I saw this incredible iceberg. I kept shooting. Seeing this iceberg was like seeing different facets of an incredible jewel. Every time we moved it offered another kind of a look. I shot that for about 15 or 20 minutes as we were slowly moving past it. I was on the deck with all the other passengers, and it was just this incredible picture which anybody could have made if they had seen it. That was a great experience and not something which required anything more than just getting out on the deck at noon.”
Muckermann’s favourite photo that McCurry took on his Silversea journeys is from Papua New Guinea, of the Asaro Mudmen, so named because of their tradition of smearing the body with mud, donning clay masks and performing dances. McCurry called seeing the ritual “profound.”
Muckermann’s favorite McCurry photo is a shot from Papua New Guinea of the Asaro Mudmen, so named because of their tradition of smearing the body in mud, donning heavy clay masks and performing dances. Photo Credit: Steve McCurry
“It’s such a powerful picture,” Muckermann said. “It represents everything that we wanted to show with this campaign.
“What Steve does is really capture the culture and the uniqueness of the destination. Most people can take a picture of a landscape, but you need the eye of Steve to capture the soul and the pride, which is what Steve managed to do with the mudmen.”
Source: Travel Weekly