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Don McCullin was kept out ofThe Falklands because he knew more about war than the generals. Philip Parr talks to this war veteran who did his shooting with a camera.
[)on McCullin started off as a
l-‘insbury l’ark wide-boy in the 50s. The street wars of which he was part were dangerous. l’eople got killed. The day before his gang — l’he (iuvnors — was involved in the slaying of a policeman. .\le(‘ullin had taken-a group portrait of his mates in a disused warehouse. It was a dark and threatening picture. 'l‘hc ()hsr’ri'cr wanted to buy it. so McCullin sold it. And thus began the career ofone of the greatest w ar photographers.
If his youth had seemed like a flirtation with danger. for the next twenty years he was well and truly married to it. For The Observer and then the pre-Murdoch Sunday limes he went with the soldiers. mercenaries and mujahaddin to Cyprus. The (‘ongo. Biafra. [El Salvador. L'ganda. Afghanistan. Cambodia and. of course. Vietnam
MeCullin tells his own harrowing
tale in his newly -published autobiography L'nreusmiuh/c Behaviour. His life has hung by a thread so often that thoughts of pacts with the devil start to spring to mind. Mc('ullin looks at it another way.
‘When I began.’ he says. ‘I behaved more like an atheist than anything else. But when things got really tough you found no greater believer than me. I used to be constantly praying for another chance. When I thought that the top of my head was about to go I just prayed “God. please help me".
‘I was incredibly lucky. but who knows what's in store for me now'.’ lt‘soften when you’re notdoing I something foolish that things hit you. l‘d hardly have been surprised if ' something bad. like losing the side of r my head or both legs. had happened I to me. It would almost have served i me right because you shouldn‘t go to 1 war to watch other people suffer .'
Surely this cannot be right'.’ The doyen of the war photographers. a man who has seen colleagues murdered and more suffering than is imaginable should be a hardened cynic. 'l'his should be a man who has lived his life on adrenalin and become immune to what he is witnessing. A man who gets a thrill from the danger.
‘I got a buzz from getting on the plane to go.’ explains Mc(‘ullin. ‘but once I got there and I saw the reality. it rapidly became apparent that it wasn't a situation that was meant to give anyone any satisfaction. It was so awful that you couldn't even get any job satisfaction from producing the kind of images that could be used as propaganda against such atrocities. It all became very much a thing that was pulling me down gradually. It took a long time to finish me off. but the fact remains that I never. ever went to a war and‘J
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