Wednesday, 12 August 2009


I've been looking at a lot of Don McCullin's work recently. It has reminded me that McCullin was probably one of my first photographic heroes -- a photographer who really made me look at and think about photographs, almost before I had the vocabulary to do so. A formative figure.

I remember first becoming aware of his work when it was published in the Sunday Times magazine. I can still remember those stark, grainy full-page bleeds of pictures from Northern Ireland, from Cyprus, from Biafra, Lebanon.

It now seems extraordinary but at that time, the very late-60s and the early-70s, I suppose, I knew virtually nothing about McCullin the man. I knew only what I saw in the papers. And yet somehow I still formed the impression of a haunted man with an extraordinary presence.

Now, there's a vast amount of stuff about McCullin on the internet – free for the finding: there's a a great interview with BBC's John Tusa; a splendid 1987 transcript – with photos – from Frank Horvat's series of interviews with photographers, Between Views; and a four-part video interview with Fred Ritchin on the Aperture Foundation website. To name just a few things.

And of course, in the early 1990s he published his autobiography, Unreasonable Behaviour.

Revisiting McCullin has made me very aware of how the internet has transformed the way we can research and pursue private passions. But more than that, it has reminded me that McCullin remains uncompromised and uncompromising. His interviews are incisive, articulate self-analyses of his own worst guilts and fears; his stark, iconic black-and-white images of suffering, of real hells on earth, undimmed in their impact.

What prompted this? Ah, yes, I remember. McCullin has just donated 100 pictures to Reporters Sans Frontieres, the organisation that campaigns for press freedom and defends the rights of journalists around the world. This means that RSF has been able to add a McCullin collection to its list of photography 'albums'. RSF's albums look great, are well printed, and help raise funds for RSF's work.