For a long time Don McCullin has been a hero of mine. Not just because of his powerful images, many of which have the power to bring tears to my eyes (a rare occurrence for me) but because of the example he gives us in how to live a moral life.
We often bandy about the word hero about a sports star say or a film actor but when we examine the object of our admiration we find them to possess a unique talent but an entirely ordinary soul.There is no sacrifice made or dilemma faced that any of us might not come across in our daily lives.
Yet for a few men and women bravery and compassion are the very basis of their existence. One might almost say it was their very reason for being alive in the first place. Don McCullin is just such a man. Never has the phrase ‘to lead by example’ been more apposite.
Just read his excellent autobiography ‘Unreasonable Behavior’ and you’ll see what I mean. Here is a man who with no education, money and connections pushed himself into some of the world’s most dangerous places and came back with images that bear witness to man’s inhumanity to man.
On several occasions he was close to death but even the threat of his own extinction did not stop him returning to the world’s most unforgiving places.
From war torn Africa to Vietnam, McCullin’s camera was there.
Very people can stand in front of a locked off camera framed from the waist up and just talk about their experiences and make it utterly gripping.
This is not due to the telling of overly embellished and dramatic stories but to the simple honesty and essential decency of the man.
You’re listening to someone who does not spare himself to get to the truth of a situation.
Perhaps that would explain the amazing variety and power of his imagery.
From homeless men on the streets of London to landscapes of the Somerset countryside to the war photography on which he made his name, picture after picture speaks to us.
Even images of lighter subjects like the English enjoying what we laughing call a summer, are brilliant and surprisingly for a man associated with such deep and serious subjects, very funny.
Everyone should see this documentary and everyone should own a book of McCullin’s images if only to remind ourselves that in a world that for many is a place of pain and torture, at least one man is prepared not to shut his eyes to their suffering.