Considering that I made a fairly lengthy post about the Robert Capa Exhibit at the beginning of the year, it’s disgraceful that I wrote nothing about the Don McCullin Exhibition at London’s Imperial War Museum. Entitled Shaped by War it’s a harrowing but compelling experience.
If his photos seem to have more of the horror of war about them than Capa’s, which seem more distant and more like pieces of history, it’s because techniques and cameras had evolved over the years. In a way, I felt as if McCullin took over where Capa left off, which is a chilling thought – that “modern” conflict has been ongoing for so long, with all its consequences, and apparently without our learning to get along. That sensation was just in my own mind, of course, because I saw the two exhibitions in the same year. Brilliant reporters and photographers routinely risk their lives to try to tell the real story, and many, like Capra, lose their lives doing so. 2011 wasn’t a good year for war photographers, notably Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed in Libya, so this exhibit touched a topical sense of sadness as well as an historic one.
McCullin’s work is amazing and I struggle to find adjectives on account of the subject matter. How can you call a photograph, say, beautiful when it captures agony on a worn face? They are superb illustrations of hurt, loss and weariness – like Capra, McCullin captures all of that in just one countenance or stance. That he evokes emotion in his audience speaks volumes, and really the adjectives are superfluous – just go and see.
There are some more recent photos, black and white landscapes, which didn’t move me so much, according to the information he found solace in this work after a lifetime reporting wars, which I can understand. It made me wonder about survivor guilt. For me, photographing landscapes in black and white lends a sense of sadness, even doom, but perhaps that is what he wants to convey. I haven’t spent my life trudging around battlefields and refugee camps, so who am I to criticize?
I whole-heatedly recommend anyone who finds themselves in London to take in the exhibit, which is on until mid-April. It’s been traveling for a while now. I know because I missed it twice in England last year, so I don’t know where it goes after Londong. That said the Imperial War Museum is always worth a visit anyway.