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 Don McCullin: New Year's Honours

Don McCullin: New Year's Honours


In celebration of the renowned war photographer's impending kinghthood, here's another look at Don McCullin's astounding work shown last year at a restrospective at Hauser & Wirth Somerset.
Don McCullin restrospective: Conflict – People – Landscape at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, a show  conveys the extraordinary power of his work both through the famous award winning war imagery and his lesser known West Country landscapes.

McCullin, the former Observer and Sunday Times photojournalist, often claims he is still harrowed by the human tragedy he recorded, especially in Vietnam, Cambodia and Biafra, and this retrospective at Hauser & Wirth Somerset clearly demonstrates why. There are images here which even now, decades later, are hard to bear, the devastating stare of a mother and child awaiting death in Biafra, the baby suckling her empty breast, a family weeping beside their dead daughter, victim to cholera, the grinding poverty of three dirt-smeared boys in Bradford, half-dressed in the bed they share, damp, peeling wallpaper behind them. See below the famous shot of a shell shocked US Marine taken towards the end of the Vietnam war.

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These were the images that changed not only McCullin’s career but also the public’s perception of the issues of the day – war, poverty, disease. In every picture you feel his bravery, there slap bang at the heart of the action, inches away from the truth exactly as it happens, too close, it seems, to the possibility of his own death. But it is also incredible to see the artistic composition of each picture, photographs which must have been framed within seconds. There is the horrified Belfast woman cowering in her doorway as soldiers charge past with riot shields, the haunting face of the albino Biafran boy with his skeletal legs and swollen stomach.

The Guvnors is here (below) , the photograph which kickstarted McCullin’s career with The Observer, a portrait of the Finsbury Park street gang he hung around with snapped in their Sunday suits.


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Character pours from images such as this well known photograph of a tormented, homeless Irishman, his skin black with grime, his hair dreadlocked with dirt, eyes which stare out from the frame.

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In recent years McCullin has become obsessed with photographing the landscapes of his Somerset home, a place he first learned to love when he was evacuated to the West Country during the war. There's character and emotion in these shots too, this picture, below, taken at the Somerset Levels, seems to perfectly capture that combination of mysticism and rawness that epitomises this part of the world. McCullin has called Somerset as 'his salvation.'
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Don McCullin Conflict People Landscape at Hauser & Wirth Somerset until Jan 31

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