Star rating - 9/10
My introduction to the extraordinary photo journalism of Don McCullin came two years ago courtesy of an excellent exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North. And a new documentary by director Jacqui Morris is a very welcome expansion on a fascinating life and career taking pictures of almost every major conflict since the 1960s.
In it McCullin talks very honestly and straightforwardly about his tough upbringing around the gangs of 1950s Finsbury Park, and his discovery of photography, which gave him an almost miraculous escape from their grasp. He had a lengthy career taking photos, mainly of war zones, for The Sunday Times under the editorship of Harold Evans, who is featured at length, and clearly rates McCullin very highly. But that was before Rupert Murdoch came in and changed the landscape of journalism forever.
The film is fascinating, not just because Don McCullin is a genius with a camera, capturing pictures which tell more than any lengthy news article ever could, but also in what it reveals about the inherent personal conflict within any war photographer. He speaks candidly about his own desire to visit these extremely dangerous places, and of what drives him to seek them out. The element of excitement is undeniable, but he has also seen the very worst of humanity through his work.
His images from Vietnam, Lebanon, Biafra, Congo, to name but a few, are powerful and shocking. They get right to the heart of the very human stories behind the headlines. Of course there is an element of 'war tourism' about his role, which he openly acknowledges, and is extremely self questioning about his right to be present. But the world would know much less about what really goes on in war without people like Don McCullin. It is telling that he was denied access to the ships sailing for the Falklands in the 1980s - his integrity and honesty were obviously a risk too far for those in power at the time.
The negative effects on his personal life are mentioned briefly - his experiences have taken an obvious toil and I wouldn't imagine that he is an easy man to live with. But nevertheless he is an extraordinarily remarkable, talented, and brave man whose has been principled in his pursuit of humanitarian photographs for so long. At 77 he now prefers to take pictures of the English countryside. And after the horrors he has witnessed who could blame him.
And if you're interested, the link to my review of his 2010 exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North is here: