McCullin is a documentary film about the British photographer Don McCullin. Most of it consists of McCullin talking to camera, interspersed with many examples of his work, all in black and white, and some archive footage. Harold Evans, who was the editor of The Sunday Times for most of the time that McCullin worked for it also commented, and extracts from an interview that McCullin gave to Michael Parkinson of the BBC were show; this was not dated, but looked to be from the mid-70s.
Note: For copyright reasons and because some of McCullin’s pictures of the results of war and famine are very graphic, I have given links to them rather than including them in the blog.
McCullin came from an impoverished part of London. His first break came in 1959 when The Observer newspaper published pictures that he had taken of friends of his who belonged to a notorious London gang.
Two years later, whilst on honeymoon in Paris, he saw a photograph of an East German soldier escaping to West Berlin and persuaded his wife that they should go to Berlin so that he could report on the construction of the Wall. His Berlin pictures obtained him full-time employment with The Observer. He reported on conflicts in Cyprus and The Congo; in the latter case he had to pose as a mercenary in order to get to the front line
In 1966 he joined The Sunday Times because it would allow him more scope to report from wars and famines overseas. It was then owned by Lord Roy Thomson, who did not interfere in the editorial decisions of his papers. He allowed Evans to fill The Sunday Times’ colour supplement with photos of war, famine and social deprivation, although advertisers would have preferred softer topics.
Whilst at The Sunday Times, McCullin reported on wars and famines, including the Vietnam War, most famously at Hue, the attempted secession of Biafra from Nigeria, which caused a famine, and the Lebanese Civil War. He also took pictures of social deprivation in the UK.
He was not allowed to go to the Falklands War, which bitterly disappointed him as he felt that, as a British war photographer, he was particularly suited to covering it. The official reason was that all the press slots were taken, but he suspected that the Ministry of Defence did not want him there because of the honesty of his photographs, which might have damaged public support for the war.
Throughout his career he was determined to show the truth via his pictures. He took considerable risks to take them, often being in the front line and under fire. He admitted to becoming a ‘war junkie’, saying that this cost him his marriage.
Rupert Murdoch bought The Times and The Sunday Times in 1981. He moved Evans to The Times, but the two fell out within a year, and Evans quit. McCullin left The Sunday Times in 1984. The new editor, Andrew Neil, wanted to make the colour supplement more attractive to advertisers by having more feel good stories and fewer features on war, famine and social deprivation.
Subsequently, McCullin has published a number of books and now concentrates on taking pictures of English landscapes. He commented that he liked taking photographs of the English because there were so many eccentrics in England that he could always find good subjects. However, The Observer’s review of the film comments that he has been to Syria during the current civil war.
Links to some of McCullin’s photographs:
Shell shocked US Marine in Vietnam. This man did not blink or move a muscle as McCullin took a series of photos of him.
Lebanese militia. He was told to clear off or be shot after taking this picture.