A Journey in Time
Shot by Steve: © Steve McCurry/Vacheron Constantin
Even if you don’t recognize his name, Steve McCurry’s work precedes him, existing in the upper echelons of photography alongside other great masters of the craft. Known for his perspective on humanity, McCurry's most recognizable works have transcended the art form and become symbols of the human condition, most notably National Geographic’s iconic ‘Afghan Girl’. Success, at least on his level, is the result of decades’ worth of tireless devotion — something that can undeniably be attributed to McCurry’s patience, discipline and keen eye for beauty.
Similarly, watchmakers, Vacheron Constantin, embody the same characteristics. Since 1755, they have dedicated themselves to creating horology’s most beautiful timepieces; works of art that capture life’s ultimate luxury: time. It was only fitting, then, that a brand as revered as itself would choose a photographer like Steve McCurry to create a truly unique partnership. In a major move in the company’s history, Vacheron Constantin recently revamped their Overseas Collection and introduced the Overseas World Timer, a self-winding, mechanical timepiece that features a 255-part movement and 37 time zones. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Overseas Collection, McCurry was commissioned to find 12 rare, little-known (and sometimes inaccessible) locations to create a series of photos that served as a global journey in time. The results are nothing less than inspiring.
Vacheron Constantin is known so much for its artistry and craftsmanship. How were you able to portray these elements through your own perspective?
I spent quite a bit of time in the workshops trying to show the intricacy, the very detailed workmanship and the dedication that these artisans perform. It’s very intense work but they’re highly skilled, highly trained and have a high degree of concentration. My job was to show the environment in which they work. I think that helps to illustrate the attention to detail. It’s like a laboratory; very sterile, very clean, and all of this goes into the effort of making these Vacheron Constantin timepieces in the most scientific, but also artistic, way.
Why did you choose these specific locations?
The objective in this project was to look for locations that were man-made examples of human ingenuity, human engineering and places that created a better environment for people to live in. These places had a combination of functionality, but also a high degree of artistic expression. We went all over the world trying to get a very global look at this very interesting human endeavor. There was a lot of research that went into these locations. Vacheron Constantin and myself tried to have a very broad basis, looking at Asia, Africa, Latin America, the United States and Europe. It was a very global approach; we looked at all sorts of structures and different artistic locations to try and come up with something that would be varied and historic. These places are historical and have been around for a long time, and have become iconic in terms of human ingenuity.
How does the concept of time play into your work?
Time is important to photography; basically you’re freezing a moment in time. Time passes, but the photograph remains eternal, it allows us to ponder the situation and to come to it time and time again. Unlike film, with photography we have the luxury to stand in front of it and really take a look at it, understand it and get the meaning of the picture.
What did you enjoy the most about this experience? How was it different from your other commissions and work?
The thing I liked the most about this experience was visiting these various locations, which were all uplifting, inspiring and celebrated human ingenuity and expression. These places were functional, like the Aqueduct in Mexico, yet had a beautiful artistic expression. I was able to bridge these two worlds, practicality and luxury, in the sense of it being a piece of beauty. It wasn’t mandatory [to be beautiful], but was made so because mankind likes to be surrounded by beauty. This was different from other assignments in the sense that I was really more free to interpret these places for myself and to try to show them, and tell the best possible story.
You have established yourself as one of the world’s most reputable photographers. In what ways do you like to challenge yourself to evolve as an artist?
The way to challenge myself is to go to new places and try to have new experiences, to try to learn as much as I can about people and places, and mostly to enrich my life through cultural experiences and travel.
Your work, including this project with Vacheron Constantin, revolves much around the human spirit. What have you learned throughout your career about yourself and humanity?
What I think I’ve learned about humanity is the interconnectedness and the shared humanity that we all have, and the commonality of mankind. We have more in common with each other than differences. If we approach and treat people with dignity and respect, the world would be a better place.
You have traveled around the globe capturing much of what the world has to offer. Is there anywhere that you would like to still explore?
I would like to go to Iran, I think they have an interesting culture and past. I think there’s a lot of history there. I’d also like to go to Madagascar. Greenland, Iceland and Siberia would offer completely different experiences compared to the places that I have been to before. I would want to test myself, to push myself to get out of my comfort zone and go someplace new that’s unexpected. It would be a great adventure.
What does success mean to you?
Having a certain amount of fulfillment, feeling that you’ve done your best and that you’ve had some sort of reasonable result. It’s feeling that you’ve made a good effort in whatever you happen to be doing.