War torn

Don McCullin is one of the world’s most famous living war photographers. But are his images I justifiably unsettling or prurient i invasions ofprivacy? Carl Honoré weighs up the evidence.

There is photography and then there is war l photography. With its random carnage. the battlefield distils and exposes our most intense i emotions. For writers and photographers. the pickings are limitless and irresistible. Unlike the written word. though. war photographs are 4 obliged to run a moral gauntlet. to justify their intrusiveness. Embarrassed by their intimacy. we search in vain for a clear line between voyeurism and selfless curiosity.

Flitting for 30 years from one human catastrophe ‘I to the next. photographer Don McCullin has amassed an oeuvre that argues eloquently for the recording of man‘s inhumanity to man. That I Vietnam. Mozambique. Cambodia. Biafra. Lebanon and Somalia blurtogether on the gallery wall is not to be lamented. Perhaps place and time ought to be irrelevant and perhaps people who complain about ‘designer suffering‘ and ‘the importance ofcontext' are missing the point. f Surely there are only three things which a war i photograph need convey: hatred. love and the fear i in between.

Beirut 1982: Burial of a relative at Martyrs' Cemetery

belly"). he has never lost sight of the subjects

whose memories he has vowed to protect. l’rom

1966—84. be controlled his own lay-outs at the Sunday Times and to this day he keeps a tight rein

on all his negatives. When people accuse war photographers ofcxploiting the griet‘of others. they forget that the Don McCullins often ask I before shooting. And somehow the complicity of - the mourner sharpens both the pathos and the nagging question: why is this happening?

What makes his work so startling even uplifting and cathartic is the bewilderment etched on nearly every face. After centuries of butchcry and early deaths. the subjects of McCullin‘s photographs stillhavetheaudacitvto look 3 stunned. (‘radling dying babies and nursing wounded comrades. they never think to ask 'why not'." Whether shrivclling up in Somalian refugee camps or en route to a ('ongolcsc execution. McCullin‘s accomplices are defiant: ‘doesn't the world owe me much more than this‘.". they ask.

One ofthe most arresting photographs was

taken in a (.‘ambodian hospital corridor.

i Bandaged and mutilated. a man writhes on the I floor. In the distance. twolittle boyslookon. To the right. the man’s wife crouches with a baby in her lap. She keeps an eerie. puzzled distance. as - _‘ . though beholdingthc birthol'somc strange ' creature. Her face is tight and impassive. She belongs to the living. he to the dead and she cannot bring herselfto reach out to him. That space between them speaks against war with more tenderness and force than any speech or death toll.

Eventually. McCullin snapped. Nowadays. he

There are only three things which a war photograph need convey: hatred, love and the tear in between.

charred Iraqi head on the road to Basra. there was a telling outcry. The irredeemable ugliness seemed to rule out hope. There was no hint of the . man‘s comrades rushing to save him. no emotion except the frozen terror of his death throes. Appalled by the unalloyed savagery. people talked more about the rights and wrongs of . photo-journalism than ofwar itself. Tragedy , without hope is a turn-off. ' To his credit. McCullin laces every portrait with a shaft of dignity or strength. In his photograph of the dead Vietnamese soldier. the foreground is scattered with the man‘s family snapshots. Despite the whiff ofcontrivance. the collage awakens our

When the Observer ran a photograph of a I

sympathy by turning the corpse into a man with a a only takes pictures of the flowers in his garden and hag a pa“ and a future. not just an unspeakably VIeInamese "0m IOXIIOIC, Hue Can only LC“ the UHICIIZIbIC for SO long. grim present. treats his craft like a mission. Though human DON McCullin: A Retrospective is at the Ar!

l bereaved family, In other words, the photograph | American soldiers dragging badly wounded everyday life in India or New Guinea. A person I i

More than most war photographers. McCullin suffering was his drug (‘My eyes were like a hungry Gallery and Museum. ls'e/vr'ngrm-e. until [5 Nov.


50 The List 9 - 22 October 1992