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Pictures that Paint a Thousand Words.
on 24 March 2013
There has been a public perception of war photographers as being voyeuristic ghouls who intrude heartlessly into peoples most intimate and grief stricken moments. A perception not without some foundation on occasions! But after you listen to Don McCullin speaking honestly to the camera, that perception is immediately challenged. There were many times that he stepped in to help the wounded and dying. He has seen more evil in this world than any man has a right to, and has remained on the evidence of this documentary an essentially decent man. To emerge from continual immersement in a 'heart of darkness' experience of extreme barbarism still intact is some achievement. Only the mental scars remain which McCullin tells us about in his frank interviews.
This is a documentary that is saturated with the searingly painful, but deeply honest black and white images of Don McCullin's startlingly insightful photography. These are images that tell a story more than any film can ever do. A smiling group of men In Beirut by a dead womans body, with one man incomprehensively playing a lute. Another showing a group of fighters with a dog bizarrely sat happily amongst them. McCullin only ever manufactured one picture in his life, and that was an understandable exception in Vietnam. His photographs reek of honesty and truth. As Robert Capa did for the the Spanish Civil War and the Second world War, McCullin did the same in numerous 20th century conflicts. Cyprus, Vietnam, the Congo, Cambodia, Beirut and the horrors of starving children in Biafra. McCullin was there in the thick of things armed only with his instrument of truth, capturing the real victims of war, the innocents! Pictures that can truly 'paint a thousand words'!
No wonder after Vietnam that governments decided to control such mavericks as McCullin. Those images swayed public opinion so much that there was an outcry against foreign interventions. Nowadays we get a much more sanitised version of events. McCullin became a victim of his own success! But his images live on and so does he! Robert Capa died in Indochina and McCullin himself was fortunate to survive those conflicts with his life. He was a self confessed war junkie who was famed for never shirking from the very heart of the action. Sir Harold Evans a former editor of the Sunday Times and a man of integrity speaks intelligently and with great respect about McCullin's canon of work. Today McCullin is still active taking pictures of the English countryside from his home in deepest rural Somerset, far away from the sound of the guns and the madness. Like me he hates the sound of a chainsaw in the distance as it tolls the death knell for some tree. Sadly when asked in a Parkinson interview if his images have made a difference, he had to give an honest no. Wars continue unabated as they have done from the dawn of time, and will no doubt still rage whilst man exists on this planet. This is a far more powerful anti war statement than any film could hope to achieve. You come away with the uneasy feeling that man is not a great species, despite its capacity for goodness! Beirut Christian militia armed to the teeth with weapons of destruction is a telling image! I once carried weapons of death, but no more thank God! This documentary just reinforces that thought! Essential viewing!