“We were just Photographers” (Don McCullin)
Yesterday I had the enormous privilege of listen to one of the biggest pioneers in the world of photojournalism. As he entered the conference room at the Imperial War Museum there was a strange silence of anticipation. Vietnam was the topic of the day. He sat down with the tips of his shoes pointing towards each other. The audience and I hung on every word he said. Don, he talked more about the photo opportunities he missed in his life. It struck me how modest he was after achieving so much in his death defying career. At the beginning of the interview he said that he hated being called a war photographer. “It makes me feel like someone that benefits from others suffering. Why not just a photographer?” The room was filled with intellectuals from educational associations and journalists from various publications. One such person asked Don a question about how the media was involved with the politics surrounding the Vietnam War and if so, how the outcome of the photos was perceived by the public against the war, after this person said that about them during the bla bla bla… Quoting people, naming places, battlefields and dates. I felt this person was more interested in showing their own knowledge about the war than Don’s opinion. His answer, “I don’t know. We were just photographers”. It was priceless. I like professionals with this approach to photography who still achieved in their fields. Phil Weymouth once replayed to one of my many technical questions about composition with a certain particular auto focus setting “Just point the glass bit that way and press the button”.
This is Don’s Nikon that was struck by a bullet in Cambodia.
He started his photography career in London with The Observer in 1959 and then worked for the Sunday Times Magazine for eighteen years where he covered every major area of conflict (natural and manmade) during that time. From 1964 to 1984 he covered battlefields in Cyprus, the Congo, Biafra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, El Salvador and the Middle East. He has been awarded several honouree degrees from various universities across Britain and was the first photojournalist to be granted with the honour of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1993. Other awards he received were the World Press Photo Award, Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, placing the letters ‘FRPS’ after his name, the Warsaw Gold Medal and the elite Cornell Capa Award. He has more than twenty books published showcasing his photographs including his highly acclaimed autobiography ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’ where he describes in detail how problematic and rewarding the life of a conflict photographer can be.
My day with Don certainly was an unforgettable one and I feel enormously grateful for this opportunity. Thank you LCC.