Getting Close With Don McCullin

There’s a retrospective exhibition of the work of Don McCullin at Tate Britain in London. It ends 6th May.

There’s his war photos from Vietnam, Cambodia, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, and other places. And his grimy photos of life in the North Of England. And more.

I’ve been looking at his photos for years. Tamara and I have been to other exhibitions of his work, but this exhibition at the Tate includes work from places we never knew he covered.

He’s spoken a lot about his work. He talks about giving dignity to his subjects, about trying to change minds. Some of his photographs must be some of the most iconic war photos you can find.

I’ve always thought he had a problem as a photographer. He’s hugely well regarded as a war photographer. The subject matter is often intense and he gets so close to the action. For that very reason it is perhaps, just perhaps, possible to miss his skill at composition.

Look at this photo. Better still, if you can get to the Tate Britain, you can see it big, on the wall, printed by him (he prints all his own stuff).

McCullin shot this in Londonderry in about 1971.

It’s a tableau. And there’s the contrast – soldiers and civilians.

There are the soldiers all of one piece, running up the road. There’s the woman to the right in the doorway, hand to her mouth in shock. And there’s the woman dressed up in a coat and hat in the doorway further down. She’s taking it in her stride.

And there’s the bollard, from which we see that McCullin was standing just across the road.

Presumably he was in view of whoever the soldiers were charging.


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