Tuesday, 9 July 2013

A Life of War

Don McCullin is a documentary photographer that I have long been aware of, in any basic history of photography lesson his name arises as one of the great 'war photographers' of the 20th century. 

When mentioned by others, his subject line is often "his photo's are so depressing" or "his images are too upsetting". Once or twice I had googled McCullin, and each time been too scared to confront the reality that his images portray. So, it was a long time coming to watch a documentary about McCullin's career, and really delve into his works to understand why he photographs the things he does...

Imagine...Don McCullin

Following the documentary on Vivian Maier (as mentioned is a previous post) Image- BBC4, are showing an episode about McCullin's life works over the last 50 years, presented through the wars that he has photographed.

Initial questions posed to such a photographer as McCullin usually revolve around why he entered into war photography. As he explains throughout, it became a 'sort-of' addiction to always be in a war environment, he refers to himself as a "war junkie". Aside from that, is the more obvious reasoning that grounds most social documentary work, that his images bare a truth of the horrors that others suffer, bringing that to light to those more fortunate or simply unaware. Even today, when war is plastered all over the news and media, I was still horrified by some of the things McCullin shot, being oblivious to the fact that such horrors actually happened and are happening. 

The word that sticks with me in a description of McCullin's work is harrowing. At times, his images are even unbearable, and I could not look for too long.

Which then leaves the viewer with a disturbing realisation that McCullin has seen these events happen, over and over, even worse than a photograph- a lived experience. McCullin has no shame in admitting that he is haunted by these memories, and that his life of war ruined his marriage.

However, what they brought to photography is the possibility of being a tool for change, and what they represent for the people in the images, is the strength and dignity they maintain despite their unimaginable pain in the unfair circumstances that they have lived.

What sets McCullin above many other photographers is the consistency of quality, humility and near-perfection that each of his images embody throughout his vast career.



Biafra, 1967

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