Exhibition | Don McCullin

Don McCullin. Tate Britain, London, March 2019.

I knew some of McCullin’s work, I remember especially his image of the shell-shocked US Marine from the ‘Conflict Time Photography’ exhibition at the Tate Modern a few years ago. Sadly, McCullin seems to be rather disillusioned that he is mostly known for his conflict photography. As he is an incredibly accomplished documentary photographer, it was gratifying to see work from across his 60-year career. And apparently he printed every work on show, personally!

The exhibition includes many of his iconic conflict photographs, alongside work done closer to home. There are scenes of working class life, protests, plus quieter (but still impactful) landscapes.

The exhibition was fairly busy, however it only took a little patience in waiting to get a proper look at some of the images. For much of the images taken during conflict, it was almost impossible not to gape at the horror and tragedy depicted. Initially, I found myself trying to look at the photographs technically, objectively, but realised that the content was more important. We are meant to feel shocked, saddened and uncomfortable. These images are meant to play on our conscience. Only when we know about these things can we do something about them; or in the case of historical events, take steps to prevent them happening again.

The Nikon F that saved McCullin from a bullet

As someone interested in street photography, or even just photographing ‘life’, this was a valuable lesson for me in images presented without judgement. Even so, it’s well worth reading the commentary that McCullin provides in each section. It gives some interesting insights.

I think this exhibition will be busy until the end of its run. Rightly so, we have a lot to learn from these images. It’s on until 6th May, click here if you’re interested.

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