Mention Don McCullin’s name, and brooding images of war and destruction immediately spring to mind. This retrospective brings them together with the many other subjects he has photographed over the years.
The book opens with several landscapes taken around his Somerset home. They convey a similar feeling of beauty and pain to much of the work that follows, from his first foreign assignment in Cyprus to his more recent and less violent work in India and Irian Jaya in the late 1980s.
The picture of “The Guvnors in their Sunday suits”, taken in Finsbury Park in 1958, became his first publication when he took it to the Observer after the trial and execution of one of the gang members. The newspaper sent him to Cyprus five years later. His work there shows us the human side of conflict: the image of the young Turkish wife finding the body of her slain husband is heartbreaking 40 years on.
McCullin went to Berlin to photograph the building of the wall without an assignment, but managed to win a British Press Award with the work he produced. As always, the pictures show the brutality and the humanity of the situation he was witnessing: the picture of a soldier’s boot near Checkpoint Charlie also shows a woman seemingly oblivious to the military force around her.
There is a large body of work here taken in England throughout the 1960s and 1970s, some of which is quite lighthearted: fishermen playing on Scarborough beach, a comical row of small boys with cameras.
The picture of the lone protester in Whitehall during the Cuban Missile crisis tells us so much about the determined man with his placard and the calm line of policemen facing him. There is a feeling that they are all on the same side – a wild contrast to the image of Southend nearly 20 years later, full of snarling skinheads and wrestling cops.
During this time, McCullin covered every major conflict, mainly for the Sunday Times Magazine. A US marine removing a wounded child from battle in Hue, Vietnam; a Biafran mother waiting for food that will never come; the Bogside housewife looking on in horror from her front door as soldiers stampede by; the solitary Christian gunman in a hotel foyer in Beirut battling with Palestinians in the next hotel. We are led through all these with a rare sensitivity. At no point do you feel that the photographer has shied away from his subject, but neither has he sought to push it towards you. His distinctive printing style, although heavy, is never overpowering. In these days of 24-hour rolling news and instant news photography, it would not be surprising to find that work like McCullin’s had lost its power. If anything, it has more resonance now than ever before.