Review of the film ‘McCullin’

McCullin – fighting for a better world

David Beale

“McCullin” – released on 1 January – is a 90 minute documentary film about one of the world’s greatest living photographers, Don McCullin.

The fundamental empathy for, and dignity, he gives to his photographic subjects – mostly the victims of poverty, war and starvation – is explored in depth in this profoundly moving film.

These are images that the rich and powerful most definitely do not want you to see, since they expose crimes committed in the name of greed, exploitation, imperialism and bigotry.

Following his retrospective exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in 2011-12, this film is as much about the man and his view of the world as his photographs.

If you saw the 2011 exhibition or read the accompanying book, ‘Shaped by War’, the film adds much more to our understanding of McCullin and his work.

In many respects it is confessional, and is striking in its integrity. He describes how he often felt guilty, sometimes even ashamed that he had taken particular photographs of death and starvation.

However, he never became hardened to the events he witnessed, always respecting those he photographed.

On one occasion in South Vietnam, McCullin and a group of journalists witness an execution in the street.

He is shocked and disgusted by the journalists’ awful, inhuman reaction and refuses to photograph the dreadful event.

There are many other occasions when McCullin puts his camera aside, not infrequently risking his own life to assist victims other journalists would photograph.

Don McCullin is now 77. Since the 1980s he has only occasionally visited war zones, increasingly photographing landscapes near his Somerset home.

This is evidently a necessary therapy for the dreadful things he has witnessed but these images have a haunted beauty, shot as they are in black and white like most of his other photographs.

Although too late to be included in the film, McCullin went to Aleppo in 2012 to photograph civilian victims of the Syrian civil war, many of them children.

I was privileged to interview Don McCullin in 2011 for The Socialist. I came away convinced that he had something to say that was profoundly important for socialists and to all those who believe it’s worth fighting for a better world.

This film confirms that view beyond doubt. It might not be shown in many of the big cinemas, so take the first chance you have to see it.

The film trailer is at:

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 4 January 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.