WAR photographer Don McCullin opened people’s eyes to some of the world’s most appalling atrocities with his starkly unsentimental but,
WAR photographer Don McCullin opened people’s eyes to some of the world’s most appalling atrocities with his starkly unsentimental but, nevertheless, humane pictures of man’s inhumanity to man.
During the Sixties and the Eighties he was on the front line of practically every conflict and global disaster, bringing back pictures for the Sunday Times that told the story with honesty and integrity.
“I wanted people reading about it in the colour magazine over breakfast to know what was really going on,” the award-winning photojournalist says in the documentary McCullin.
The film, which was screened this week at the Regal in its Discover Tuesday arthouse slot, has been nominated for two Bafta awards. It is the story of McCullin’s remarkable career, not only capturing shocking images of war, famine and homelessness but also, on the lighter side, eccentric pictures of people in deckchairs on the beach and three old ladies sitting on a bench on the prom.
But it was on the front line that McCullin made his name and despite some of its disturbing subject matter, this film is totally compelling. One can only admire this photographer. He comes across as a modest, compassionate and caring man who, despite admitting he enjoys the buzz of being in a war zone, is determinedly anti-war and dislikes being termed a “war correspondent”.
Sickened and appalled at what he witnessed, he rarely shied away from capturing the best images which he hoped would make politicians and gung-ho despots sit up and acknowledge the humanitarian consequences of their power-crazy ambitions.
But he turned away from snapping executions — murder, in his eyes — or anything that would compromise a person’s dignity, whether alive or dead.
McCullin’s photojournalism took him to war zones all over the world, including Cyprus, Vietnam, the Congo, Cambodia (where he was wounded), Lebanon, Northern Ireland, and to disaster areas hit by famine in Africa.
Harrowing images of soldiers and civilians maimed or killed by explosives, stick-thin, wide-eyed starving children on the brink of dying in Biafra are uncomfortable to watch but, with McCullin’s treatment, are powerful and moving, sensational but not sensationalised.
Former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans, also interviewed in the film, describes McCullin as a “conscience with a camera”, “a genius”, a man with an “artistic eye for composition”.
But, the film points out, the age of Don McCullin’s brand of independent photojournalism was brought to an end when Rupert Murdoch bought the Sunday Times and was more intent on advertising revenue than cutting-edge war stories. And when Andrew Neil became editor, he decided that the colour magazine, which ran McCullin’s reportage, would now concentrate on life, leisure and celebrity.
McCullin is an excellent film, highly recommended, and it would be good to see it make a return visit to the Regal in the future.