Posted on Sun 07 July 2013

Don McCullin

Two nights ago I watched a documentary about war photographer Don McCullin and am still haunted by the images. The film, simply called McCullin, was shown on the BBC as part of a series called Imagine... which previously featured the photographer Vivian Maier. The McCullin documentary was made by Jacqui Morris and David Morris as a separate film that was nominated for a BAFTA and is now available as a DVD.

The programme featured interviews with McCullin (who worked for The Sunday Times from 1966 to 1983) and others, fragments of film from the war zones in which he worked and, central to the whole thing, his brutal and beautiful black and white photographs.

I recently read a collection of work by Gitta Sereny and was left with the impression that she, like McCullin, was trusted as a journalist to seek out and produce a story and report the truth. While that degree of freedom is now history (McCullin was not allowed to take part in the Falklands conflict) I do wonder whether ‘citizen journalism’ and smartphone war photography may still ensure the truth about conflict gets out. Don McCullin belonged to the more freewheeling era of Robert Capa than today’s embedded journalist.

Ultimately this is a film about two sides of humanity. The terrible suffering caused to some people (always the poor and vulnerable) by others and Don McCullin’s humanity in how he photographed (or occasionally chose not to photograph) his subjects.

I’ve admired his work for a long time now, particularly the dark, contemplative, landscape and still life photographs he produced at his home in Somerset. I have the impression Don McCullin came back to England a haunted man after “break(ing) the hearts and spirits of secure people.”

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