As my passion for film grows, I sometimes forget that my first love was still photography. Photographers who explore truth and realism fascinated me the most. Some photographers, such as Martin Parr, amused me through the comedy they provoked through their photographs. Others moved me. Three years ago I went to see the Don McCullin exhibition at the National Media Museum in Bradford. His photographs in the ‘In England’ series were strikingly honest and provoked many different emotions. Poverty and conflict filled each frame and the occasional comical image stood out amongst the others. Now, Don McCullin’s work is subject of a new documentary, McCullin, by siblings David and Jacqui Morris. Through this majestic film, McCullin provides access to his personal archive of his photography. Although McCullin explores the photographer’s British observational photography, its main focus is upon the experiences, lessons and photographs that Don McCullin returned with from many world wars.
Don McCullin is responsible for revealing, to Britain, many of the horrors of both war and natural catastrophe, from all over the globe. Working as an overseas correspondent for 18 years, McCullin provided documentation, in the form of his photographs of some of the most shocking global conflicts and epidemics during the sixties, seventies and eighties. He has reported from war-zones in Vietnam, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Lebanon and most recently Syria. He has also photographed the AIDS epidemic in Africa and was bitterly disappointed when he was refused entry to the Falkland Islands during the conflict in 1982.
The documentary centres around McCullin’s thoughts upon war and conflict. McCullin himself addresses his personal hatred for war and the suffering it causes. His detestation of the situations he has witnessed and his struggles with his personal role in the suffering is shown as a constant battle within his mind. The guilt he has felt at not helping a situation but merely photographing it clearly still haunts him. McCullin is humble and honest about the photographs that he has taken and the role that they have played in bringing the true horror of war to a westernised public.
What is most startling about this film is the huge amount of respect McCullin holds for those whose suffering he documented. On many occasions, he addresses the dangers of taking a photograph inapproriately or disrespectfully and his strong desire to avoid this is astonishing. Don McCullin’s photographs are often shocking and distressing. Along with the news footage that is consistently present within the film, McCullin is, on many occasions, very difficult to watch. Certain images from the documentary are still haunting me. However, Don McCullin’s personal insights into war and suffering in many different corners of the world are just as memorable. McCullin is a moving piece of cinema that expresses itself beautifully. In the case of McCullin, the words and stories from the photographer himself are as shocking as the images that accompany them.
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