Don McCullin

Don McCullin - Fluid - surface and surfaceI went to see the recent documentary ‘McCullin’ about the British Photographer Don McCullin last week and was very impressed. Directed by McCullin’s old assistant Jacqui Morris and her brother David. It is phenomenal what he achieved in his career. McCullin a one point talks of becoming addicted to wars and wished to cover at least two a year.

Don McCullin covered some of the last centuries worst humanitarian disasters including wars and conflicts in Cyprus, Congo, Biafra, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Cambodia and Lebanon putting himself in immense danger and exposing himself to deeply tramatising circumstances, working principally for the Sunday Times until the 80s when Rupert Murdoch decided, McCullin tells us, that the paper should move away from his kind of harsh realism and concentrate on “the pleasures of life”. McCullin discusses the impossibility of any photographer today getting the kind of access he did as the military are now very sensitive in controlling their public image. McCullin’s very straight and open discussion of his fearless life is countered by his self-doubt, coming back several times to his position of documenting atrocities and feeling like a hypocrite, he describes himself as a humanitarian photographer doing his job but in effect exploiting someones misery, ‘I feel guilty because I’ve made a success out of my photographic life,’ he says. ‘Those pictures were of suffering, dying children. I cannot indulge myself by saying I was proud. I wasn’t. I was ashamed, if you want to know the truth.’

He now devotes himself to recording the British countryside, his reasons succinctly summed up in this quote; “I have been manipulated, and I have in turn manipulated others, by recording their response to suffering and misery. So there is guilt in every direction: guilt because I don’t practice religion, guilt because I was able to walk away, while this man was dying of starvation or being murdered by another man with a gun. And I am tired of guilt, tired of saying to myself: “I didn’t kill that man on that photograph, I didn’t starve that child. That’s why I want to photograph landscapes and flowers. I am sentencing myself to peace.” If you get a chance go see this film.

Don McCullin - surface and surface Don McCullin - surface and surfaceDon McCullin - surface and surface Don McCullin - surface and surface Don McCullin - surface and surface Don McCullin - surface and surface Don McCullin - surface and surface Don McCullin - surface and surface

  1. Great post. I want to see the film. I have one of his books and I went to see an exhibition of his work – at the National Media Centre in Bradford.

    I think the thing about him that is overlooked sometimes is that because the subject of his images are so strong and powerful that one has to take a step back to see what a great photographer he is. His compositions are wonderful.

    I don’t know whether this image will show up here in comments, but it is one that stops me in my tracks.

  2. Mark said:

    Thanks David, Yeah definitely try see it while it’s still in the cinema. His ability with composition seems to be so natural from his early photographs in London. Yeah a lot of his images are very shocking, particularly the one you posted, I didn’t want to post many of them on this post, I guess it’s up to people if they want to see them in the film. It’s hard to understand how he managed to perform in such traumatic circumstances. I went to see Zero Dark Thirty right after and it felt very tame in comparison to some of McCullin’s images of what human cruelty is capable of.

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