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Life through the lens by McCullin

June 3rd, 2016  |  Published in Gems

The greatest living war photographer Don McCullin is the subject of this riveting documentary.

Some of the most arresting and powerful images you may have seen from conflicts around the world over the past 50 years, are most likely the work of Don McCullin, the greatest living war photographer. From the civil wars in Cyprus and Lebanon, to the humanitarian disaster of Biafra. From the poverty in Britain in the 1960s, to the troubles in Northern Ireland. Or most famously, the iconic portraits of the Vietnam war. McCullin has captured it all. His incredibly visceral photographs sometimes shock but always inform.

Image from Canon Professional Network

Directors David Morris and Jacqui Morris have created one of the most enthralling documentaries you’re likely to see with their 2012 film, one that ranks for me alongside the greats in my documentary faves – Senna, Asif Kapadia’s extraordinary examination of the life and untimely death of the gifted Formula 1 racing driver; When We Were Kings, Leon Gast’s incredible recreation of the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974; One Day in September, in which Kevin Macdonald flawlessly retells the horrific massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games; and most recently CITIZENFOUR, Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning study of the revelations of CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Perhaps when you see this film, it may rank that highly for you too and whilst it’s wholeheartedly in my ‘Gems’ category, I will say the first time I saw it, it left me completely drained. Primarily because of the content of a lot of images that are included – this is a strong film with a strong subject matter, which might be hard to watch but it’s equally hard to turn away from when the content is this compelling.

Containing a mixture of interviews with McCullin very candidly talking about his work and the life that has encompassed it, as well as contributions from Harold Evans (editor of The Sunday Times and McCullin’s longtime employer and supporter) interposed with those quite startling and sometimes very disturbing photos, we’re shown not only a remarkable career but also presented with the important issues of the ethics of photojournalism and what it means to take a shot that might depict the final moments of a person’s life. We see the after-effects of those decisions etched across McCullin’s wonderful face, as he describes how he now takes pictures of landscapes as a way to escape from the horrible images he’s witnessed that are forever inside his head.

What’s the saying – ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’? Never was that more appropriate than in reference to the pictures taken by McCullin and having recently seen his exhibition at PhotoLondon 2016, all I can say is that his commitment to the craft of photojournalism and his images that you witness in this riveting documentary will stay with you for a long time after seeing it.

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