Zanskar, above the Padam Valley, Kashmir.
The elephant festival, Sonepur Mela.
The Kumbh Mela.
Gathering for early morning prayer, Ganduk River.
Blind beggar with his son in the Muslim district, Kolkata.
Old lady in the House of the Dying.
Saris drying, Sonepur Mela.
Dusk on the Ganges.
Beggar, Sagar Island.
It can’t be easy bearing the title of the world’s greatest war photographer, but that’s only one of the burdens Don McCullin carries around with him. After 20 years of confronting the world with unforgettable images of war, from Congo to Biafra, Beirut, Cambodia, and of course Vietnam, he doesn’t have many alternatives. It all used to be addictive too. By his own admission, McCullin used to be ‘a one-war-a-year man’, but then it grew to two, and then to three, until it had it stop; not because wars stopped, or killing stopped, or inhumanity stopped, but because there came a natural limit to ‘looking at what others can’t bear to see.’
In the 20 years or more that he lived with death, often those of his close friends and colleagues, or diced with death personally but cheated it, McCullin never lost his own humanity, his care for the people, soldiers and victims whom his lenses caught in the most agonising of extremities. He did it through possessing a mixture of qualities, summed up as: ‘the balls of a commando, the cunning of a rat, the eye of an artist, the anger of a man with his eyes open.’ John le Carré has said he would rather watch any amount of TV battle footage than have to leaf through one of McCullin’s albums of human suffering. Visitors to McCullin’s exhibitions have been seen to wander in a flood of tears.
After making his first trip down the Ganges in the company of travel-writer Eric Newby in the mid-sixties, McCullin has returned to the sub-continent again and again, sometimes on harrowing photojournalist assignments, but more often to capture what is to him ‘the most visually exciting place in the world.’ The results; ghostly, film-like accounts of India’s everyday diversity, allow a sense of beauty and dignity to rise above squalor and degradation. Charged with McCullin’s trademark ability to challenge and uplift the viewer, they reveal a style that has graced some of the more unfortunate corners of human existence, one that is at the same time surreal, but nonetheless human.
Today there are no more wars for McCullin. He is content to photograph the Somerset landscape, still-lives, and the victims of other tragedies, such as the Aids sufferers of Africa. He shares his time between the State of New York and the British countryside, with his wife Marilyn Bridges, an American aerial photographer.
Introduction by Norman Lewis