Don McCullin British photographer impressed, through his camera, reportage and images document scenes about world conflicts, wars, protests, riots, the industrial North of Uk, landscapes near his home and working-class life in London’s East End.
Born in London, 1935, he is one of the most important living photojournalist.
Tate Liverpool hosts an exhibition with more than 200 photos, printed by the artist, highlighting McCullin’s carrier: on the one hand his unforgettable and sometimes harrowing images are accompanied by his brutally honest commentaries of the atrocities witnessed, on the other when he is at home, Don often has turned his attention to the lives of people in Britain that had been left impoverished by policies of deindustrialisation.
Life and industrial scenes in Liverpool and other northern towns and cities during the 1960s and 70s, McCullin has seen similarities among the lives of the people he has photographed and his own childhood.
Abstract taken by an interview dated 16/1/2019 curated by Grant:
What was your most terrifying experience?
I was imprisoned for several days by Idi Amin’s men at the notorious Makindye military prison in Uganda in 1972. It was incredibly terrifying because we had heard that they were killing people with sledgehammers. I was there with four other press people, as well as a Tanzanian border guard. They came in one night and almost beat the guard to death in front of us. I thought, well, if they’re going to let us witness this, they’re not going to let us go. There was the constant sense that something awful was about to happen. Unlike the battlefield, there is nowhere to run inside a prison.
When you look back at the photographs, have you become desensitised at all?
Not at all. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to produce these pictures. I could only produce these pictures by the pain I suffer, and the shame I suffer. I live in this house with 60,000 negatives in these filing cabinets and several thousand prints, and they are all based on quite nasty subject matter. I’ve felt that when I’m asleep upstairs at night these ghosts get out of the filing cabinets and they contaminate the house.
Whose work do you keep going to look at?
Alvin Langdon Coburn, who did a lot of work in Camden Town; Peter Henry Emerson’s photographs of reed cutters on the Norfolk Broads are stunning; and Henry Peach Robinson’s bizarre set-ups, which are almost Pre Raphaelite. A hero of mine is the 19th-century photographer Francis Frith who is best known for his photographs of the Middle East – and another of my great heroes is an artist called David Roberts. I have some of his prints. He painted the Middle East and created incredible skies in his paintings. I am also interested in other people who went to the Middle East in that period – not just the photographers and artists, but also the travellers, such as Lady Hester Stanhope and Gertrude Bell.
Which are the photographs you are most happy about?
I’m very proud of my photographs of the architectural ruins of the Roman Empire, like those at Palmyra. When you are standing in front of these great sites, you can hear the ringing of the pain of the people who built them, whose lives were sacrificed by the industrial side of creating these places. I think some of the best work I’ve ever done was because I was working out of my comfort zone. But my favourite picture in the whole collection was taken in the National Museum in Libya. It’s simply a piece of a Roman bust, lit by one light from above, taken at a 15th of a second with a wide-open lens. It is a picture that allows me to sit in a neutral place, having that moment of freedom, away from war, away from everything. I can’t help feeling that there is somebody up there who’s been brushing away the broken glass in my path ahead. I could have been killed in the wars. I used to run across those battlefields, zigzagging my way across the fields. I would think: ‘I’m not going to let a sniper get me’, though one day a bullet hit my camera instead. What I find extraordinary is how life can suddenly throw you in a different direction altogether. I think I’m one of those people who’s been bloody lucky really.
Royal Albert Dock Liverpool
Liverpool L3 4BB
16/9/2020 – 5/9/2021 – Due Pandemic, check before.
by Alain Chivilò