Cultures on the Edge

Vanishing People, Vanishing Livelihoods

Rabari Shepherd, Rajasthan, India, 2009
Rabari Shepherd, Rajasthan, India, 2009

Since the beginning of time, nomads have roamed the world and have been an essential part of economic and cultural activity around the globe.

Ladakh, India, 2008
Ladakh, India, 2008
Nomad boy Tibet, 1999
Nomad boy Tibet, 1999

South Asia has the world’s largest nomadic population.

Tibet, 2008
Tibet, 2008
Tibet, 2001
Tibet, 2001
Nomad Girl, Rajasthan, India, 2009
Nomad Girl, Rajasthan, India, 2009

In India, there are more than 500 nomadic groups, roughly 80 million people, but every day their traditional ways of life are disappearing.

Lhasa, Tibet, 1999
Lhasa, Tibet, 1999
Tibet, 2001
Nomad Children, Tibet, 2001

The diversity of the livelihoods of each of these nomadic communities is staggering.  Each one fills a particular socio-economic niche, fulfilling a specific need of village or sedentary communities.

Srinagar, Kashmir, 1995
Kuchi Shepard, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1995
Lhasa, Tibet, 2000
Lhasa, Tibet, 2000
Rabari woman, Rajasthan, India, 2010
Rabari Woman, Rajasthan, India, 2010

The Kuchis of Afghanistan have to travel long distances to avoid drought, dust storms, and wars. They are about 10% of Afghanistan’s population and are an important part of the foundation of Afghanistan’s exports of wool, carpet, and animal hides.  Because they travel to remote regions, the Kuchis have been instrumental in taking manufactured goods to remote areas, and rather than being a relic from the past, they are relevant, but drought and social pressures are impacting their way of life that has survived for centuries.

Kandahar, Afghanistan, 1992
Kuchi Nomads, Kandahar, Afghanistan, 1992
Rabari woman, Rajasthan, India, 2010
Rabari Woman, Rajasthan, India, 2010
00365_12, Gao, Mali, 1986, MALI-10006. Tuareg woman. The Tuareg are a semi-nomadic tribe who live within the Sahara desert. For much of the year they move with their herd, but they often inhabit regions for fixed periods when they grow crops. Traditionally, the tribe is very insular, and one can detect wariness in the way this woman returns McCurry's gaze. Magnum Photos, MCS1987002 K500 final print_Milan book_The Unguarded Moment book_Iconic Photograhs book_PORTRAITS final print_Genoa final print_Perugia retouched_Sonny Fabbri 03/14/13
Tuareg Woman, Mali, 1986

Each of these groups is threatened by a variety of factors:  urban sprawl, cheaper factory goods, modern technology,  stringent wildlife laws and governmental pressure.

Young pilgrim child, Lhasa, Tibet, 2001
Young Pilgrim Child, Lhasa, Tibet, 2001
Nomads, Lhasa, Amdo, Tibet, 1999
Nomads, Lhasa, Amdo, Tibet, 1999

The fate of all nomadic peoples is precarious, but it is vital to recognize that their way of life has served them and their regions well for centuries, and that perhaps it is worth a Herculean effort to help them survive.

By Steve McCurry

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

To read more about Steve go to

70 replies on “Cultures on the Edge”

Very happy I discovered your blog this morning, I just love your photos and write up, the earth is so full of beautiful, beautiful people, such a joy to even just look at them. Thank you. Will follow.

As a long time fan of your incredible photography, I am thrilled and humbled to find your blog here, on, the home base for me too. Thank you so much for sharing your incredible work.

Dear Mr. McCurry, I recently saw your exhibition in Bangkok. I am sorry that I missed meeting you when you visited! Your photos moved me & are such an an inspiration! I have a private question…please email me. Thank you.

Recently visited Xiahe, a Tibetan town outside of Tibet. Heartbreaking to see the plains dotted with fences.

I really liked your blog. In my views we should promote nomadic groups for better understanding about culture.As the culture is disappearing with growth of time. these are very ethnic group and have survived so many years. we should promote these groups .

It’s a joy to meet these people through your images, they are so accepting of outsiders in my experience as well. I can’t wait to get back to Gujarat but would love to visit up north as well. Love India and love photography……thanks for your inspiring images.
Regard, John.

Takes me back to Nepal in the 70’s, the cold and dry dust and a people doing it tough… no different to the aboriginals in Oz. Things are changing so fast. People are losing their culture, their purpose. I see it all the time in North Queensland, in the aboriginal communities; nothing to do except drink and drugs and fighting each other. You take great picky’s… the new cameras help, point, snap and photo-shop edit. I take a hundred snaps for one good one. It’s all there in a face, ya just got to take the snaps; people are getting wise to the camera, they know it looks into their soul… and the camera-man don’t care; they take something away and don’t pay. Take a look at my page; quid pro quid.

I am always amazed at the powerful photos you take. Eye opening and emotional. Keep up your fantastic works.

Amazing! It’s like Christmas or a birthday opening up your latest photos album. A wonderful gift of a glimpse into lesser known peoples, places and cultures! Thank you for sharing!

Even the youthful faces have indications of a life being lived which seems to only come through into your lens. Thank you – again.

I am awestruck by the power you captured in each face and all the details you captured that combine to tell the story. What an amazing photojournalist and artist you are!

Thank you. I look forward to your blog each time I receive the email announcing it’s arrival. I feel as though I have traveled to far off places that I will never see in my lifetime.

The skin on the children’s faces is to sad for me. I feel for the pain they must feel for what the way of life and weather has done to them. i pray that they have a good diet. Your skill and relationship with the people tells a story and one that the world needs to see.
Thank You.

These beautiful environmental, ethnographic portraits render each subject with an intimate moment; yet as a collection they offer a larger view of cultures that are among our world’s vulnerable. Thank you for valuing and seeing these ordinary people as worthy subjects and for the masterful frames that encourage us to learn more.

Things you own, end up owning you (Fight Club)

Although not nomadic at first glance, this quote is all about the logic behind a nomadic lifestyle. We usually become slaves to our attachments, to what we have. Nomads are about breaking free, being flexible, starting from scratch time after time.

I just love getting your blogs. Each photo tells such a poignant story and I am envious of your ability and the opportunity to capture those images. Keep cataloging these amazing vistas

It is always a special treat to see your email in my inbox. God Bless you and beautiful sensitive work that you do in showing the world very special souls. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s