Fine Art Photography Series
Don McCullin

War Photographer Noted for Coverage of Vietnam and Cambodia.

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Don McCullin
War Photographer, Photojournalist.

Don McCullin (b.1935)

Contents

Don McCullin's Photography
Biography
Selected Exhibitions
Selected Awards
Great Documentary Photographers

For more about the early inventions upon which McCullin's lens-based art is founded, see: History of Photography (c.1800-1900).



Albino Boy, Biafra (1969)
Photographed by Don McCullin.
A starving albino boy bullied
because of the colour of his skin,
holds an empty can of corned-beef
at an orphanage in Biafra.

GLOSSARY
For a short explanation of
camera terms please see:

Art Photography Glossary.

CAMERA ARTISTS
For the finest len-based
artists, please see:
Photographers: 19th-Century.

Don McCullin's Photography

Best known as one of the greatest photographers of the Vietnam war, Donald McCullin is a British photojournalist, noted for his fine art photography of the human condition, depicting those caught up in conflict, or simply downtrodden because of their poverty. His consistent contribution to contemporary art during his 55-year career, has been to expose the underside of society in countries around the world, and bear witness to the unacceptable. In so doing he has produced some harrowing portrait art - including "Shellshocked US Marine, Hue, Vietnam" (1968) and "Albino Boy, Biafra" (1969) - as well as numerous compelling photo-essays, such as "Vietnam: Old Glory, Young Blood" which appeared on the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine in March 1968. In bearing witness, McCullin has produced outstanding photographs of all the great conflicts of the day, since 1945: including Cyprus, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, the Belgian Congo, Biafra, El Salvador and Northern Ireland. His photos have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, notably The Sunday Times (London). Amazingly, unlike his older colleague Larry Burrows (1926-1971), McCullin survived these wars, despite having his favourite Nikon F camera plugged by a sniper's bullet in Cambodia (1970), just as he put his eye to the lens. Later in his career, McCullin focused on documentary photography of various kinds. For other outstanding photojournalists and war photographers, see: Robert Capa (1913-54), James Nachtwey (b.1948) and Steve McCurry (b.1950).

For a brief guide to the aesthetics and artistic nature of lens-based art, please see: Is Photography Art?

 


Shellshocked US Marine, Hue, Vietnam (1968)
Photographed by Don McCullin.

Biography

Born in Finsbury Park, North London to a severely asthmatic father, the dyslexic McCullin found schoolwork difficult, but excelled at painting and drawing, winning a scholarship to the Hammersmith School of Arts and Crafts. However, he left school after the death of his father in 1950, without qualifications. After various menial jobs, he trained in photography while doing his National Service in the RAF. Returning home in 1956 he worked as a darkroom assistant before getting his first big break, when his photos of a local Finsbury Park gang ("The Guv'nors of Seven Sisters Road") - one of whom had committed a murder - appeared in The Observer newspaper in 1958.

In 1960, he paid his own fare to Berlin and took photos of the building of the Berlin Wall - photos that brought him instant international recognition and won him a British Press award. As a result, in 1961, McCullin was offered a job as a photographer for The Observer newspaper, during which he produced a number of photo-essays on social issues involving subjects like steelworkers in Hartlepool. In 1964 he started work as a staff photographer for The Sunday Times Magazine and received numerous overseas assignments. These included covering the Cyprus Civil War (1964) - work which won him a World Press award - after which he went into the Congo disguised as a mercenary, and then in 1965 Vietnam - the first of fifteen visits. During this early period, McCullin has since confessed to being influenced by the pictorialism of Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901), as well as the compositional skills of the architectural photographer Frederick Evans (1853-1943) and the American pioneer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946). This helps to explain some of McCullin's trademarks, like the way he frames his subjects, the way the light broods in his photos, and the way he catches people off guard.

McCullin continued working for the The Sunday Times, a publication which was then at the forefront of investigative journalism. His assignments included Biafra (1969), the Northern Ireland 'Troubles' (1971), Bangladesh (1971), Uganda (mid-70s), the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (1979), the civil war in Lebanon (1982), and the insugency in El Salvador (1980s). But his best-known work is his photos of Vietnam and Cambodia.

In 1984, McCullin left The Sunday Times and went freelance. After 20 years of involvement in his unique brand of violent street photography, he opted to devote most of his time to still life and landscape photography, while continuing to demonstrate his skills as one of the best portrait artists with a camera.

Over the years McCullin has written a number of books, including: The Destruction Business (1971); Homecoming (1979); The Palestinians (together with Jonathan Dimbleby, 1980); Hearts of Darkness (1980); Beirut: A City in Crisis (1983); Sleeping with Ghosts: A Life's Work in Photography (1984); Skullduggery (1987); Open Skies (1989); Unreasonable Behaviour: An Autobiography (1992); Don McCullin in Africa (2005); and Shaped by War (2010). His latest book is Southern Frontiers: A Journey Across the Roman Empire, a study of Roman ruins in North Africa and the Middle East.

Selected Exhibitions

1971 London (Kodak Gallery)
1980 London (Victoria and Albert Museum)
1988 London (Hamiltons Gallery)
1991 Bath (Royal Photographic Society)
1992 Arles (Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie)
1993 Paris (Centre national de la photographie)
1994 London (Hamiltons Gallery)
1994 Chambery, France (Maison de la Culture)
1994 Paris (Galerie Agathe Gaillard)
2000 London (Hamiltons Gallery)
2001 Paris (Maison europeenne de la photographie)
2002 Amsterdam (Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam)
2005 Charleroi (Belgium) (Musee de la Photographie)
2007 London (National Portrait Gallery)
2009 Berlin (C/O Berlin)
2010 Salford (Imperial War Museum North)
2011 Bath (Victoria Art Gallery)
2011 London (Hamiltons Gallery)
2011 London (Tate Britain)
2011 London (Imperial War Museum)
2013 London (Retrospective at National Gallery)
2013 Perpignan (Visa Pour L'Image, International festival of photojournalism)

Photographs by Don McCullin are also regularly shown in some of the best galleries of contemporary art in Europe and America.

Selected Awards

McCullin has been the recipient of numerous prizes. Here is a short selected list of his major awards.

1964: World Press Photo Award, for coverage of the war in Cyprus.
1977: Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society (FRPS).
1978: Grand Prix of the American Society of Media Photographers.
1992: Erich-Salomon Prize of the German Photographic Association.
1993: CBE, the first photographer to receive the honour.
2006: Cornell Capa Award.
2007: Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal.
2011: Honorary Degree (Doctor of Arts) from the University of Bath.

Great Documentary Photographers

For other famous lens-based artists noted for their documentary-style photography, please see the following forthcoming articles.

Eugene Atget (1857-1927)
The great chronicler of Parisian architecture.
Charles Sheeler (1883-1965)
Famous for his shots of Ford's River Rouge car factory.
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
Documentary-style portraitist noted for her rural photos of the Depression.
Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003)
Noted for her propagandist documentary camera art.
Walker Evans (1903-75)
Like Lange, noted for his Depression-era photos of rural families.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004)
One of the great photographers of people and places.
Bernd/Hilla Becher (1931-2007)
Celebrated for their photos of disused industrial plant.

• For more about documentary war photography, see: Homepage.


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