Monday, 2 April 2012

Don McCullin: Shaped By War

I was fortunate enough to catch the exhibition 'Shaped By War' by the noted war photographer Don McCullin yesterday. I grew up alongside his imagery in the national press and was always in awe of him in many respects. He went off to war zones armed only with a couple of Nikon F camera's and some rolls of film. Not much else in the way of protection - just bits of second-hand kit cobbled together from the marines he was with.

One of the most interesting exhibits is one of his old Nikon F camera's that took a bullet that was meant for his head. Remarkably, it continued to work (his camera.....and his head come to think about it, although I'm not so sure. He kept going back into war)!

McCullin's images were some of the most iconic war photographs ever taken and did much to bring attention to the plight of people in other countries who were caught up in (mainly) civil wars not of their choosing. He was one of the first to bring back images of the starving in Africa (Biafra).

Back then the papers were more willing to print hard hitting images of the suffering peoples but that all changed around in the 80's when the press got 'cold feet' and we now have much more sanitised and censored images in the press.

Did his images bring about change? Do any images from war photographers around the world change anything? Sadly not it would seem. War rages on, people die of hunger.

Sadly it would seem, Mr McCullin is himself a victim of the wars and violence he has witnessed since his childhood. In the film I saw he claims that he is 'not mad' despite what he has seen but it has clearly affected him. He now takes landscape photographs as a form of meditation because he loves the isolation and peace it brings to him. However, his landscapes are all very dark, very sombre and, to my mind at least, reflect a deeply wounded man.

If you're in London and anywhere near the Imperial War Museum, I urge you to go see this exhibition if you get the time.

all images copyright Don McCullin and their respective owners

P.S It should be noted that McCullin was so much more than a war photographer, producing some of the most interesting 'social' photographs of the sixties, seventies and on into the eighties; a fact all too often forgotten because of his reputation for war.

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