As I have an odd fascination with the Vietnam War, I already knew some of Don McCullen’s famous work, and so I was thrilled to be able to see McCullin being interviewed by Libby Purves for the Royal Geographic Society.
In all honesty, I think this was something that will stay with me forever, through out the whole interview I couldn’t help but think what a life this man has had. At 80 years old he has seen so much, such as the Falklands War, the gangs of London, Biafra, victims of the African AIDS epidemic, Cyprus, Vietnam War and the Northern Ireland conflict. Thinking he had retired I was amazed to find out he would like to go to Syria to document what is happening out there. I was also unaware that he took photographs of landscapes particularly after moving to Somerset with his family.
This particular image stood out to me when discussing his work in Vietnam, he said he distinctly remember the hate in the eyes of the Tet Offensive when capturing this photo (Hué, South Vietnam 1968). I think anyone looking at this photo, aware of the struggles with in Vietnam at the time, can see the raw emotion. There is no way of faking something like this, because of this anyone looking at this image would be affected by it, I definitely am. It’s strange to think that though he is a stranger, with this image, his feelings can touch another stranger.
To capture a moment of movement, and yet still have a perfectly composed image, is something I would find extremely difficult. However, McCullin seems to have no trouble with this, as he captures an image of a Turkish defender leaving the side-entrance of a cinema (1964, Limassol, Cyprus). This beautiful image, of such a sad scene, could be a composition of a painting.
In this photograph a Turkish woman, with her son, has just found out about the death of her husband, who was killed by Greek militia (1964, Gaziveren, Cyprus). When this image was displayed on the screen McCullin immediately stopped mid-sentence to respond to it. He explained, that when capturing a photo of a moment as sensitive as this, that there is a moment between him and whoever he photographs. With in this moment, he looked at this woman as if asking for permission, and she gave it to him with just a look. As you could imagine, its a difficult time for the person with in the image, but its these moments of vulnerability that encourage change as we see people really struggle across the world.
I think this might be one of my favourite images of McCullin’s. Photographed in Africa, this boy with his crown of thorns, almost creates a biblical image if it weren’t for his proud (almost arrogant) look upon his face. With this image, different interpretations could be taken from what he might be feeling, whether it is pride or anger.
It was quite clear that McCullin is trying to move away from being labeled as a ‘war photographer’ (even though his work is so immensely influential). To me his landscapes are just as powerful. Though they are not politically influential like his previous works. Its amazes me that he is capable to capture the power of emotion in people and also the power of nature in his landscapes. Sunlight peeping through the dark clouds have an almost Godlike effect to the scene. The perfect reflection of the sky on the still water, a natural mirror image, and a never ending sky. Its truly remarkable.
(Unfortunately we were not allowed to take our own images in this interview)