Children by Steve McCurry at Museo degli Innocenti

Children by Steve McCurry at Museo degli Innocenti
Steve McCurry, Rajasthan, India, 2008, ©Steve McCurry

The beauty and complexity of childhood are illuminated through Steve McCurry’s lens as his photographs ask us to consider what we can do as a society to better nurture innocence

The Museo degli Innocenti in Florence, which for six centuries has been dedicated to the advocacy and wellbeing of children – first as an orphanage, now as a museum – is hosting an exhibit of 100 photographs by Steve McCurry until Oct. 8. McCurry, a renowned photojournalist who is often recognized for his striking 1984 image Afghan Girl, has traveled the world documenting the precious stage of life that is childhood, forcing viewers to confront the often heartbreaking realities faced by children across the globe. Now, a curation of his most powerful work is on public display in Florence in one of the first ever exhibitions dedicated exclusively to childhood.

Lining the walls of the dimly lit rooms of the exhibit are vibrant images depicting children in various circumstances, from Afghanistan to Brazil, Mayanmar to Lebanon. Every section follows a unique theme: education and schooling, child labour, children in war-torn areas, relationships, play. No single image is like the other, and each holds its own evocative and compelling story.

Children and the reality of war

In one photograph, we see a group of children climbing atop a cannon, playfully dangling from its long barrel in Beirut, Lebanon. Here, the juxtaposition between the innocence of childhood and the brutal fact of war becomes apparent. Despite the harsh reality of the world they live in, the desire to play remains for these children – innocence trudges on in the face of a world that does everything it can to crush it.

Children by Steve McCurry at Museo degli Innocenti
Steve McCurry, Beirut, Libano,1982, ©Steve McCurry

“One in five children in the world lives in [a] war zone,” a placard on one of the walls reads. Next to it is an image of a young boy in Kabul, looking soulfully into McCurry’s lens, rounds of ammunition draped over his chest as a cannon sits forebodingly in the background. He looks into the camera as if to confront the inevitable viewer of the image and forces us to ask ourselves, how did we get here? How have we allowed our children to live in a world that robs them of their innocence?

Faces of child labour and exploitation

We are also faced with the uncomfortable notion of child labour as we see children handling heavy tools, carrying bricks, working in fields, their exhausted eyes heavy with the weight of a burden that should not be theirs to carry. “Over 150 million children are engaged in child labour worldwide,” a short description reads.

Children by Steve McCurry at Museo degli Innocenti
Steve McCurry, Angkor Wat, Cambogia, 1998, ©Steve McCurry

The value of play and the redeeming power of  education

Along a wall dedicated to the significance of relationships during youth, we see children engaged in more lighthearted fun. In Havana, Cuba, two boys play with makeshift guitars in the street. In another from Paris, girls cling to each other joyfully after squeezing into the same shirt. The value of friendship rings true in these images – despite their varying circumstances and the chaos of the world around them, children hold on to each other, depend on one another. These images ask us to consider whether we could learn from the unabashed openness of childhood, whether we, too, should be clinging to each other more, on a much larger, societal scale.

McCurry also makes clear the importance of education in the lives of all children, highlighting his belief that it “can be the main tool for children to build a better future of freedom and empowerment.” This idea is central to several images included in the exhibit and presents itself almost as a thesis: a tool we can use, one of hope, that benefits all children, and in turn our world. We see children in Lome, Togo holding small chalkboards with mathematical solutions written on them. In Bamiyan, Afghanistan, a child leans forward eagerly in his classroom with a pencil in hand. If we take the time to intentionally nurture the desire to learn, hope is not lost, a world free from the ugliness of child exploitation is possible.

Children by Steve McCurry at Museo degli Innocenti
Steve McCurry, Lomé, Togo, 2017, ©Steve McCurry
Children by Steve McCurry at Museo degli Innocenti
Bamiyan, Afghanistan, 2007, ©Steve McCurry

Walking through the exhibit, gazing into the faces of children from all over the planet, one cannot help but recognize themselves within McCurry’s subjects. Once, we were all children, swaddled between our own hopes, wonders, curiosities, and the often menacing and confusing world that surrounded us. We looked out into a world that rarely looked back at us. Children by Steve McCurry asks us, for a moment, to do just this: look.

Steve McCurry – Children

from 19 May to 8 October 2023

Museo degli Innocenti

Piazza della SS. Annunziata, 13

Visiting Hours:

Everyday from 10am to 7pm


Open € 16,00; Full price €14.00; Reduced € 12.00

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