This February, Tate Britain presents a major retrospective of the legendary photographer Sir Don McCullin. Renowned as one of Britain’s greatest living photographers, McCullin has captured images of conflict from around the world including Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Lebanon and Biafra.
Often taken at great personal risk, these unforgettable photographs will be shown alongside McCullin’s work in documentary photography, his travel assignments and his long-term engagement with landscape and still life. With over 250 photographs, all printed by the artist himself in his own darkroom, this exhibition is a unique opportunity to see the scope and achievements of McCullin’s career.
McCullin began taking photographs in the 1950s, documenting his surroundings and local community in his native Finsbury Park, London. In 1958, his photograph The Guvnors, a portrait of a notorious local gang, was published in The Observer, launching his career as a photojournalist.
Working first for The Observer and then The Sunday Times Magazine, he went on to capture major conflicts around the world from Vietnam and the Congo to Cyprus and Beirut.
The show at Tate Britain includes some of McCullin’s most iconic photographs including Shell- shocked US Marine, The Battle of Hue 1968, Starving Twenty Four Year Old Mother with Child, Biafra 1968 and Northern Ireland, The Bogside, Londonderry 1971.
Alongside McCullin’s hand-printed silver gelatin prints, the exhibition also includes the photographer’s magazine spreads, contact sheets, his helmet and the Nikon camera which took a bullet for him in Cambodia.
While McCullin has been best known as a photojournalist and war correspondent, he has also consistently engaged in documentary photography in Britain, depicting scenes of poverty and working-class life in London’s East End and the north of England.
From the homeless and disenfranchised population of Whitechapel in the 1970s to the industrial landscapes of Bradford, Liverpool and Durham, McCullin has exposed changing social conditions in the UK. These works are shown alongside other photographs taken around the country, including character studies of people at the seaside and at Ascot.
McCullin has also been influenced by the meditative landscapes of the British countryside, particularly Somerset, where he has lived for the past 30 years. Still lifes and landscapes became a focus for McCullin from the 1980s onwards. He immersed himself in the huge panoramas within walking distance of his home while his still lifes, taken mostly in his kitchen, are an exploration of light, texture and composition.
McCullin’s most recent photographs for his ongoing project ‘Southern Frontiers’ connects the two key strands of his work: conflict and landscape. For years, McCullin has been documenting the physical remains of the Roman Empire in the north African and Levantine landscapes, including the ancient site of Palmyra.
He returned to Syria last year to document the deliberate destruction and demolitions undertaken by the so-called Islamic State. The exhibition ends with these powerful works including The theatre on the Roman city of Palmyra, partly destroyed by Islamic State fighters 2017.
Don McCullin at Tate Britain from 5 February until 6 May is curated by Simon Baker, Director of The Maison Européene de la Photographie, Paris, with Shoair Mavlian, Director of Photoworks, assisted by Aïcha Mehrez, Assistant Curator of Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain.