Don McCullin

One of the best known photojournalists of our time, Don McCullin spent two decades documenting conflict and its consequence around the world. His works depict the effects of human cruelty through warfare, poverty and enforced starvation in a direct and disturbing way.

The works in ARTIST ROOMS include images taken in Cyprus, Congo, Vietnam, Northern Ireland and Lebanon, during the time McCullin worked for The Observer and The Sunday Times Magazine. This was the time when he produced several of his most iconic images, including Shell Shocked US Marine, The Battle of Hue 1968. This widely publicised photograph depicts an American soldier, clutching onto his rifle in a state of quiet distress. The depiction is sympathetic, but far from sentimental, accurately recording the terror of the Vietnam War at its height.

Several of McCullin’s works use horizontal and vertical lines as a framing device for his compositions. This can be observed in the series of three photographs taken within seconds of each other in the Bogside of Londonderry in 1971. The images capture the unfolding of a violent confrontation between a Catholic youth and a group of British soldiers. The progression of the sequence is marked through the changing position of the plank of wood being thrown at the soldiers, whilst they remain static behind their rectangular shields.

Sympathy for human suffering is a central theme that runs through the selection of photographs featured in ARTIST ROOMS. The images taken during McCullin’s assignment in Cyprus are potent examples, unifying elegant composition with the acute sense of grief that his subjects are experiencing. McCullin received the World Press Photo of the Year award in 1964 for an image from this series portraying the distress of a family upon learning of the death of a loved one. This evocation of human sympathy alongside his technical mastery has led to his work being likened to an earlier witness of conflict and suffering, Francisco de Goya.

Don McCullin, South Vietnam, 1968
Don McCullin, US Marine with a captured North Vietnamese soldier, The Battle of Hue, 1968

This photograph was taken in a little Turkish village not far from the capital city Nicosia, and was McCullin’s first direct encounter with the devastating realities of war. He sought to position himself at the centre of the conflict, documenting distressing scenes as a means of revealing the human suffering and true impact of war. He carefully composed this image in order to show the significance of the moment, recording it in a serious and dignified manner befitting of the scene.

 

Don McCullin, The Murder of a Turkish Shepherd, Cyprus Civil War, 1964

Don McCullin's talk with Northern Lights Ambassadors at Tate Modern


Don McCullin being interviewed by members of the Northern Lights Ambassadors from Shetland. As part of their ARTIST ROOMS project the group travelled to London to meet Don McCullin and Anthony d'Offay at Tate Modern and put questions to Don about his incredible life as one of the world's best known photographers.