Sanctuary. Steve McCurry: The Temples of Angkor

by Steve McCurry

A vibrant, deep-felt photo essay on Angkorean temples and their spiritual significance, by a major photographer.

Sanctuary cover

Type: hardback

Publisher: Phaidon Press, London/New York.

Published: 2002

Author: Steve McCurry

Pages: 121

ISBN: 0 7148 4175 7

Language : English

ADB Library Catalog ID: PHOTMCCUR

Bayon perspective from inner gallery, ©Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry’s magic exists. While many professional photographers have attempted to capture Angkor archaeological site’s unique vibrations and significance for worshippers and commoners, especially in the years 1990s-2000s when the area reopened after 15 years of unrest, the author, who spent about six months on site in the years 1999 – 2000, obviously got caught with the sense of place.

This stunning book doesn’t deal so much about monument documentation, focusing instead on Angkor as a spiritual place for Cambodian people, deeply blending in their daily life as farmers, dancers, monks. It is a harbinger of the deep transformation experienced by the UNESCO-listed site during and after Covid-19, when Cambodian people naturally reclaimed the place as an intimate part of their culture. 

There is human beauty in these stones, an interaction between the mundane and the sacred. Rain pours down on worshippers, sun shines on lotus ponds, kids play among the ruins. To quote Penny Edwards in The Angkorian World (2023), Angkor resists arrest.”

In Angkor Wat’s gallery, 2000. ©Steve McCurry
Water purification ceremony of a young girl in a pagoda near Angkor Wat, 1999. ©Steve McCurry

Presentation and maps by John Guy, then curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Sculpture at the Victoria and Alberr Museum, London, and a consultant to UNESCO on Southeast Asian historical monuments.

Tags: photography, Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Bayon, daily life, Buddhist monks, dancers

About the Author

Mc Curry SL2 China closeup

Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry (b. 1950, Philadelphia, USA) is a professional photographer whose work in rebel-controlled areas of Afghanistan prior to and after the 1979 Russian invasion — including the iconic Sharbat Gula, Afghan Girl”(1984), which was a National Geographic cover photo –, and again after the 2006 Russian withdrawal, gained international recognition, and photographed many spiritual places in Africa, Australia and Asia, including Myanmar and Angkor

An endless traveler” — to borrow the title of the January 2024 exhibition dedicated to his work at Peter Fetterman Gallery, Santa Monica, USA –, he became a freelance photo reporter after studying history and cinematography at Pennsylvania State University, and soon embarked in the first of what would become many trips to India. After several months in the country, he crossed the border into Pakistan. In a small village, 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 Western journalists. Emerging in traditional dress, with a full beard and weather-worn features after months embedded with the Mujahideen, McCurry made his way over the Pakistan border with his film sewn into his clothes.” (from Steve McCurry’s official website).

A member of Magnum Agency, McCurry has been recognized with with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, including the World Press Photo Contest Award (four times), the Robert Capa Gold Medal, the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award and the Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal for Lifetime Achievement, and was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame in 2019. He has also covered worldwide societal topics, for instance portraying the LGBTQ communities around the world, starting with Thailand.

In November 2008, the Siem Reap Center for Friends Without A Border held an inaugural exhibition of his work, Looking East”. Khmer Times writer Peter Olszewski noted that McCurry has an unusual connection to the centre, which is part of the Angkor Hospital for Children: in 2000, while photographing the temples, he was bitten by a monkey and urgently treated for rabies at the hospital. This exhibition is his way of returning a favour.” 

Amongst Steve McCurry’s publications:

  • The Imperial Way: By rail from Peshawar to Chittagong (with Paul Theroux), Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1985.
  • Monsoon, Thames & Hudson, 1988.
  • South Southeast, Phaidon Press, 2000
  • Sanctuary. Steve McCurry, The Temples of Angkor, Phaidon Press, 2002
  • India, Phaidon Press, 2014.
  • Steve McCurry: Sobre la Lectura (On Reading), [Spanish edition], Phaidon Press, 2016
  • Steve McCurry: Afghanistan (with William Darlrymple), Taschen, 2017.
  • Steve McCurry Untold, The Stories Behind the Photographs (with William Kerry Purcell), Phaidon Press, 2018.
  • Bonnie McCurry, Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures (40 years of iconic McCurry photography including 100 unseen photos), Laurence King Publishing, 2018.
  • In Search of Elsewhere: Unseen Images, Laurence King Publishing, 2020
  • Belonging: Portraits from LGBTQ Thailand, The New Press, New York, 2021.
  • Devotion: Love and Spirituality, Prestel, 2024.
At work in India (from Joris Hermans’s blog)
India @Steve McCurry