The Beauty and People of Coffee

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Before the release of his new book, From These Hands: A Journey Along the Coffee Trail, the most famous images Steve McCurry captured in coffee countries were from trips to Honduras and Colombia in 2004. The two most striking images from those journeys (one of a grandfather and granddaughter leaning against a wall of haunting handprints, and the book’s cover image of a young man wearing a cowboy hat, crouched down, awaiting someone) are classic compositions by the photographer most famous for his portrait of Sharbat Gula, a photograph originally published in National Geographic, known simply as Afghan Girl. Neither portrait is clearly about coffee growers, but both are testaments to men who work, men who worry.

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Throughout From These Hands, the focus of McCurry’s unparalleled eye is on people in origin countries. The actual product that occupies a major place in their lives appears rarely. Instead, portraits and tableaus of daily life draw the viewer into the lives of the people who make up coffee communities. The similarities between the villages and homes of people from opposite sides of the globe can be unbalancing, making you wonder whether a person is from Africa, South America, or India. Other times the photo essay makes clear that saying “coffee origin” as a catchall is a pitiful simplification.
When coffee does appear, especially in the sections called “Land” and “Work,” the crop is beautiful, even when it’s backbreaking, as it is in an image of four young Ethiopian men carrying overstuffed jute bags across a creek.

Lavazza commissioned McCurry to make multiple photography trips, and the bulk of the book comes from visits to a bevy of countries over the past five years, though there are photos of Sulawesi going back to 1983. From These Hands presents the most arresting collection to date of photographs from across coffee lands. Steve McCurry is one of history’s greatest photographers. We’re lucky that he brought his camera to bear on our industry.

—Cory Eldridge