“I was fascinated by this young monk who was sitting there waiting and meditating” – Steve McCurry reveals the story behind a previously unseen photo

From the book Devotion by Steve McCurry
‘Monk Meditates on Train’: a novice monk in Bangkok, captured by Steve McCurry on a Leica SL2. (Image credit: Steve McCurry / Prestel)

Featuring 75 previously unpublished photographs, Devotion by Steve McCurry
is a collection of “spiritually inflected” images from around the world, taken during the American photographer’s 40-year career. Being a follower of Buddhism was one reason for McCurry wanting to create this collection. 

In the previously unpublished photo ‘Monk Meditates on Train’, which appears in Devotion, we witness a novice monk in Bangkok. The station is somewhere McCurry has visited many times before, and knows particularly well. 

“I’ve always been interested in trains and train stations,” he says. “I had used that particular station quite a bit when I first went to Thailand in 1979. There has been talk about ripping it down, so I went there several times just to photograph people coming and going, and the passengers on trains. 

“I was fascinated by this young monk who, I guess, was going back to his monastery, sitting there waiting and meditating. Sitting in silence is an integral part of their practice, but it seemed like an unlikely place to meditate.”

Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry (Image credit: Steve McCurry / Prestel)

McCurry captured the photo on his Leica SL2 with a 24-90mm lens. He was drawn to the even light falling on the monk’s face, and there was enough light elsewhere for the SL2 to work with, without having to push the ISO beyond 3,200. 

What McCurry did have to be mindful of was working around the busy train cleaner, and the railway timetable – making sure he could get off if he felt the train starting to move.  

The cover to Devotion by Steve McCurry

(Image credit: Steve McCurry / Prestel)

Devotion by Steve McCurry is published by Prestel and is priced £50/$65.

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Niall Hampton

Niall is the editor of Digital Camera Magazine, and has been shooting on interchangeable lens cameras for over 20 years, and on various point-and-shoot models for years before that. 

Working alongside professional photographers for many years as a jobbing journalist gave Niall the curiosity to also start working on the other side of the lens. These days his favored shooting subjects include wildlife, travel and street photography, and he also enjoys dabbling with studio still life. 

On the site you will see him writing photographer profiles, asking questions for Q&As and interviews, reporting on the latest and most noteworthy photography competitions, and sharing his knowledge on website building.