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Don McCullin [Mar. 4th, 2010|10:00 am]
Tony Grist
Don McCullin has a retrospective of his work showing at The Imperial War Museum North. They don't make 'em like him any more- or if they do, the military draws their teeth by embedding them and making sure they don't point their cameras at anything too embarrassing. McCullin was at large during the great years of war photography- which I take to be, roughly speaking, the '60s and '70s- and put in an appearance at every conflict that was going- from Cyprus to Cambodia.  He makes them all look the same. And that's the great lesson of the show as far as I can see- that all wars are the same- identically scary and filthy and horrid. It doesn't matter which side you're on or what cause you're fighting for- if you stop a bullet it hurts- and if you're dead, you're dead- and first you go stiff and then you go off. 

There aren't that many, great, truthful images of war. The people who pay for such things want pictures of themselves on prancing steeds and flags being raised and stuff like that. There's Leonardo's ferocious Battle of Anghiari, there's Goya, there's Elizabeth Butler's shell-shocked lancer at Balaclava- and then there's this little clutch of work that McCullin and his compadres produced in the brief window of opportunity between the invention of the lightweight Nikon and the realisation by the masters of war that this subversive shit wasn't exactly making them smell of roses. 

After about 20 years of gonzo recklessness McCullin shook himself, realised he'd turned into a war junkie and stopped. Now he shoots flowers and landscapes instead.