Framing The World Through My Photographs

McCullin- Points and Review

McCullin (2012)  is a twice BAFTA nominated film that tells the career of the veteran war photographer Don McCullin. The film is spoken by McCullin himself as well as Sir Harold Evans who was editor of The Sunday Times (1967-1981).

The film is directed by Jacqui Morris, she directed the film very well however the one thing that I picked up on was that the documentary implied that McCullin retired in the early 1980’s after being pushed out of The sunday times, when Rupert Murdoch took over and brought in a new editor Andrew Neil, however  at the age of 77 he is still working in fact he has photographed the Aleppo war in december 2012.

The film starts with McCullin asking Questions and making a few statements.

“War is pointless,worthless, mostly schizophrenia.”

“why am I here?”

What is my purpose”

“What has this got to do with my photography?”

These slowly get answer through out the duration of the documentary.

1959 – Finsbury park – he took a set of photos of the boys he grew up with as they were involved in the murder of a police officer, they didn’t murder them a rival gang did…. He took the photographs to the observer and they asked for more, after this he was well and truly on his way to making a career out of photography.

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 17.52.20

  • The first execution McCullin saw was in 1965 Vietnam – he was shocked at what he saw and how the other photographers  reacted to it, he remembers one photographer asking him wether he got the shot, in which he replied no as he found it wrong to photograph it, because at the end of the day public executions is still murder.
  • McCullin said that he was lucky to have grown up in the 60s-70s where it was ‘all going on ‘ it was like his career was ‘carved out for him’.
  • Whilst on holiday in Paris McCullin saw the well known photograph of a soldier jumping the Berlin Wall, which inspired him to ask if he could go and photograph in Berlin.
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  • McCullin asked the Observer if they would commission his trip in which they said no. However he had already brought his ticket so he went any way.
  • The camera he used he considered to be the wrong type.
  • “Sitting ontop of the most important news story in the world”
  • On his arrival home he developed the roll of film in the Observers darkroom which got seen and the Observer ran a small page with these photos, which lead them to giving him a contract.
  • He started to get better jobs, he was asked to photograph disturbances in the east of London .
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  • He was asked to photograph the CYPRUS CRISIS – ALLIES SEEK THE END TURKISH-GREEK FEUD –  In which he used this as his big chance to get into the business more.
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  • McCullin considered Cyprus as his baptism into war.
  • “The little things tell you more into a story than the big things.”
  • McCullin recalled when he was in Cyprus he saw a whole village being evacuated to safety and seeing an old crippled women being hurried along by a soldier and struggling to move quick enough, in which he struggled to watch her struggling to get away from danger quick enough, therefore he left where he was photographing and his equipment and carried her to safety then returned to his post.
  • McCullin carried an old lady to safety.

    McCullin carrying an old lady to safety.


  • McCullin felt that he had to clear his own conscience, after just looking on at all the terrible things happening around him.

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  • Sir Harold Evans described this photo as the ‘best decisive moment in photography” as if it had been a second later the photograph wouldn’t have turned out as well. McCullin said that it reminds you to be on the side of humanity.

The crisis in the congo came about as a result of the country gaining its independence from Belgium in 1960 – samba rebels rose against the prime minister Tchombe, killing thousands and takin western civilians hostage.- Belgian and Congolese troops supported byt mercenaries, were sent on a rescus mission to the town of Stanleyville – Against the backdrop of panic, McCullin arrived in the capital Leopoldville.

  • McCullin managed to get into an area no journalist was supposed to be, called Stanleyville.
  • In this war zone he often question whether it was right to take out his camera out and photograph as he wasn’t a mercenary which could ultimately result in getting him shot.
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  • After 4 an a half years with the observer he startied working for the Sunday Times.
  • He was sent to the Mississipi- were he said this about his work – “you can take amazing photos but you still need to have them presented in a way the public can understand them”
  • .Febuary 1969 – north Vietnamese forces launched a series of major attack known as the ‘tet offensive’The situation was quickly brough under control by U.S. and south vietnmases forces except in the city of Hue.U.S. marines were given the job of re-taking the city, but it turned into one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
  • Shell shocked soldier 
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  • McCullin said that he took five separate frames, in which all of the were exactly the same.
  • The most meaningful photo to McCulllin was of a man who had been shot in the legs being held up by to men , he said he looked as if he was Jesus being taken down from the cross- McCullin was atheist.
  • Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 23.11.06By 1969, the biafran war had developed into a humanitarian tragedy – it was the event of its kinds to be played out in ‘real time’ on television screens an on the covers of newsapapers.-images of starving children galvanised a huge response amongst the people who wanted to do something to help.- but still the war dragged on.
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  • For the photo above he explains how what stood out to him beyond the women who looks asif she is 65 when she is only 24 trying to feed her baby, when there is nothing to feed her baby with as she is so malnusished was some writing on the wall which read “today I am reborn”.
  • In Cambodia 1970 – McCullin walked into a particually explosive zone where he go caught up in and explosion and was injured, he was put onto the back of a van, where he photographed what was going on in the back of that van.
  • Northern Ireland 1971-
  • Belfast- Londonderry
  • He felt it was like a theatre as he’d seen it so many times before he knew the plot.
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  • What made this photograph for McCullin which he hadn’t seen until he printed the photograph was the women hiding in the alley way.
  • Vietmam 1972- having already made 15 trips to Vietnam McCullin was sent back one last time – United States forces had withdrawn,handing over responsibility for military operations to the south Vietnamese – the policy was called Vietnamsation- the country was weary, and the end of the war was in sight.
  • He said that he made his family suffer, by always going away and for them not to know whether he would come back .. eventually it ruined his marriage.
  • Beirut, 1976 –In Lebanon, a wealthy and mainly right-wing elite controlled the contry- tension with eft-wing factions muslin groups and exiled Palestinians guerrillas increased- this escaleated into a seris of tit-for-tat shootings which quickly became a civil war – McCullin was given permission by the Christian phalangists to cover their sod of the conflict.
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  • The man playing the instrument in the photograph said that if he ever found the man who took the photograph he would kill them. For some reason that I don’t fully understand McCullin said that he found this to be an honour.
    • In the late 1970s, a bitter disput between trade unions and management weakened time newspapers


    • Losing money, and with with no solution to the situation, the situation, the Thomson family eventually put the paper up for sale


    • In 1981 Rupert Murdoch of the news international brought the times and the Sunday times, ushering in a new editorial direction.
  • The siege of Beirut, in the summer of 1982, was a continuation of the war which hadf raged since 1976
  • By this time forces from Israek and Syria were also involved as well as international peacekeepers.
  • this did not prvent over 3,000 palestinian civilians from being massacred in the refugee camps of sabra and shatila by phalangist forces.
  • It was McCullins last major assignment for the Sunday times.
  • The sights that he have seen come to haunt him.
  • Theres nothing more powerful than reporting.. often the reports have been suppressed but McCullins photos don’t do this.

I found this documentary film very interesting to watch as I didn’t realise just how many wars McCullin had photographed and how he felt about himself whilst photographing them. There were many battles in his mind before he reached the actual battles. I can imagine that the horrific sights that he has seen over the years will stick with him forever. McCullin said that he didn’t want to indulge himself in taking the photos when he was there as he didn’t know how far he could take it. He said that he didn’t think it was right to be there, as he thought the people that were doing these terrible things thought he was  okaying it.


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This entry was posted on May 27, 2013 by in Personal Professional Development.
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