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Date: 7 November, 2003
Review by Malcolm Doney
If you were a newspaper
editor and wanted someone to descend into hell and send back pictures,
you'd choose Don McCullin.
McCullin's career has spanned most of the second
half of the 20th century and included some of the world's nastiest
conflicts: Beirut, Cambodia, the Congo, Cyprus, Ulster and Vietnam.
But as this retrospective collection of his pictures
shows, he is a great deal more than a war junky or even a cataloguer
of horrors - Don MCullin is more artist than reporter. He transcends
the reporter's craft by the emotional (you might even say spiritual),
quality of these images.
This book is to be pored over for the intimacy and grace of these pictures: a Turkish Cypriot fighter in his suit and tie, with a rifle in one hand and a half eaten apple in the other; a wounded US marine sprawled like a dead Christ, tended and guarded by his friends; Bangladeshi flood refugees huddled in the rain.
There is darkness here, to be sure. Even the landscapes which bookend this awesome retrospective collection are brooding rather than joyful, reinforced by the characteristic darkness of McCullin's exclusively black and white prints. He is an artist with an eye for tragedy, as Cold Heaven, his series of pictures of African Aids victims sponsored by Christian Aid eloquently displays. But his passion, his sheer humanity, always wins through.
What is ultimately remarkable about McCullin is that, like all the best photographers, he is also supremely an artist of the intuitive moment. There is something almost mystical about his ability to sense and to frame these mysteries through a tiny mechanical aperture, in the space of a second - it takes something less like sight and more like vision.
See a number of the photographs in this retrospective, as well as the work of other leading photographers, at the V & A's website
More McCullin information and links can
Don McCullin, published by Jonathan Cape,