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From The Socialist newspaper, 20 March 2019

Exhibition: Don McCullin - a life in pictures

  (Click to enlarge)

Paul Heron

Being a legal aid lawyer, you are subjected to audits by all kinds of people. As it is, working a weekend allows you a day off mid-week and I took the opportunity to pop down to Tate Britain in south London. The reason for the trip was to see the retrospective on the photographer Don McCullin. It did not disappoint.

Don McCullin was born in 1935 into a poor working-class family in north London. He was forced to leave school at 15 in order to take a job to help the extended family. His father had died a few years earlier. He completed his national service as a photographer's assistant in the Royal Air Force.

However, his fortunes were to change when he visited the Observer newspaper with a picture of a gang called the 'Gov'nors'. They were lads he knew - he had gone to school with them, and he had asked them to pose for a photograph that was snapped up as that week the gang was allegedly involved in a murder.

Fortune had clearly favoured Don McCullin, but there is no doubt that fortune was seized by him - and he was then commissioned by the Observer to provide more pictures for the news bureau. Following that feature, he then travelled to Berlin to cover the beginning of the construction of the wall that secured him a long-term contract with the paper.

His commissions then took him around the world. It is that breadth and international scope that this retrospective covers. That good fortune marks the beginning as a war photographer and someone who is thrown into covering other human disasters.

From the mid-1960s to the early 1980s McCullin worked for the Sunday Times magazine when it was at the cutting edge of investigative journalism. During this period he covered Northern Ireland, the conflict in Cyprus and the war in Biafra, west Africa. Indeed one of the most haunting pictures is of an emaciated albino boy - when you see it, you'll remember it, and it will break your heart. Other conflicts covered include Lebanon - he was present when the Christian Phalange massacred innocent Palestinian women and children at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp.

The retrospective has a series of thought provoking and impactful black and white prints from the US war in Vietnam, and its satellite conflict in Cambodia. The sight of a young father cradling his injured daughter is a powerful riposte to the warmongers of today and of yesteryear.

In 1981 Murdoch took over the Sunday Times and his impact was felt. The respected investigative editor Harold Evans resigned and his replacement Andrew Neil soon found an enemy in McCullin who questioned his integrity to independent investigative journalism - the type that McCullin was committed to. Soon after he resigned going onto work with other magazines and newspapers. He became a key member of the Magnum photo agency.

When commenting on his style and his photography, Don McCullin said: "Photography for me is not looking, it's feeling. If you can't feel what you're looking at then you're never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures."

There is no doubt that his poor working-class background had provided Don McCullin with not only a sense of social justice, but also a real empathy with the subjects of his photographs. The walls are full of real sympathetic prose that supplement the humanity of his work. Well worth a visit.

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In The Socialist 20 March 2019:

What we think

May's government facing endgame


End austerity. Fight for a living wage!

New Zealand mosque terror atrocity

Top unis threaten cuts if tuition fees

Cash-strapped schools now 'fourth emergency service'

Climate walkouts

Youth strikes show the way - mass action can oust Tories

Massive protests over catastrophic climate change

Workplace news

Victory for Birmingham bin workers

PCS civil servants' union: Vote Yes to strike for better pay

Midlands machine bearing makers launch all-out strike

Hackney school bus workers walk out

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Socialist Party's Sue Atkins wins big support for anti-cuts, socialist policies

Union fightback key to movement against racism and austerity

Trade unionists debate the EU

Socialist Party Northern conference: Workers are sick of cuts and have the power to fight back

Stop cuts to women's services in Leicester

Help build the workers' press: send May Day greetings to the Socialist!

International socialist news and analysis

Spanish state: Historic 8 March action


Exhibition: Don McCullin - a life in pictures

The Socialist Inbox

Theatre: Banner Theatre's Nottingham 'Free for All'


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