‘Looking at what others cannot bear to see is what my life is all about’

MarineAnother of the sure signs of ageing that I wrote about last week is when you complain that there is nothing but rubbish on tv these days. Which is true of course, except that every now and then when a little gem is broadcast.

There was one such late on Tuesday night in the Imagine documentary on the work of photojournalist Don McCullin. It was strangely harrowing, uplifting and depressing all at once.

McCullin grew up in the tenements of Finsbury and began photographing the gangs he was a part of before taking himself off to Berlin at the time of the building of the wall.

His work was so good that he was recruited by the Sunday Times magazine and sent to all parts of the world covering conflicts in Cyprus, Congo, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Vietnam and Cambodia to name just the obvious hot spots.

What made McCullin’s work so good was the humanity he brought to the madness of war and that he was a self-confessed war junkie. The photo of the shell-shocked marine above was taken during the Battle of Huế in Vietnam when he spent two weeks with Delta Company of the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines.

He took five separate frames and each negative was exactly the same, not a blink of an eye.

Street ManOf course McCullin was fortunate to work for a Sunday Times owned by Roy Thomson who truly believed in a free press and had Harold Evans as a boss, perhaps the last of the truly great newspaper editors.

Things changed when Murdoch bought the Times and forced Evans out, bringing in Andrew Neill who didn’t want all that nasty war stuff frightening off the advertisers and so McCullin was out of a job.

Now aged 77 he is busy photographing the English countryside but I do recommend watching the programme if you can. It is on catch-up under Imagine, or try an image search.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

5 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 4th July 2013

    I have a friend who ALWAYS disses me on my blog every time I mention TV. It IS mostly rubbish, but not all.

  • Elizabeth 5th July 2013

    McCullin has always been one of my photographic heroes. Thank you so much, Ian, for directing the way to this super documentary.

  • Insurgent Pudding 6th July 2013

    Who is the chap at bottom right? Looks like the odious Andrew Neill to me! I’ll try to catch that programme. Thanks for the tip.

  • Trevor Rowley 6th July 2013

    “Looking at what others cannot bear to see?” makes me think of a recent piece on the internet about the dreadful situation in Syria. Specifically, the piece was about the tragic death of a Catholic priest in that country. The poor man was beheaded by Jihadists, presumably for being no more than a Catholic priest. His killers had the audacity to film the event which was then made available for viewing on the internet. I found myself being stangely drawn to actually watching the footage but something inside told me that this was “a step too far” and I didn’t complete the exercise. This death was surely not meant to be seen, over and over, by ghoulish viewers. I have a fairly good idea what bloodshed looks like but I’d rather leave it at that.

    Incidentally, it was revealed in the last few days that the numbers of Christians in the middle east (the home of Christianity) has diminished by between one half and two thirds – I think this was based over ten years but I can’t recall the time scale exactly. We have to assume that this was by killing and enforced migration as I can’t imagine they all decided one morning that they “fancied a bit of a change.”

    • Mr Parrot 9th July 2013

      There were quite a few examples in the film of when McCullin was invited to photograph an execution, or there was an opportunity to snap a desperately injured soldier or civilian, and he put his camera away because it simply wasn’t right, Despite all the harrowing images he took, the goodness in him tried to maintain the individual’s dignity even amid the horror of war, famine and disease.


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