How has your week been so far? Work has been slow for me and the weather has been pretty miserable in London, but I am grateful for some downtime. Moreover, I have something really exciting to look forward to this weekend! This probably also explains why I have mentally checked out at work. My university friend is getting married in Chamonix, France, so I am going to go snowboarding for the first time (last time was about 10 years ago so I will consider myself as a beginner again!) and see some friends that I have not caught up with since I graduated!
Last Sunday, I went to the latest exhibition at Tate Britain – Don McCullin, it will be available until 6th May 2019, for those with an Art Pass, it only costs £9 or £18 for a normal adult ticket. I love the Tate group and I think Tate Britain is one of the most beautiful art galleries in London. I highly recommend wandering around the free exhibits if you ever have the time!
I love photography exhibitions (see my previous post on Diane Arbus) and as I am still working on my own photography, I was excited about this specific exhibition. I did not know much about Don McCullin, so I thought it was a great opportunity for me to learn more about him and see whether his photos would inspire different techniques of my own.
For the past 50 years, he has travelled the world capturing the horrors of wars in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. During this period, he was shot and hit by a bomb in Cambodia; an individual was standing in front of him and took a majority of the shrapnel, unfortunately, the Cambodian male died shortly after. He has been imprisoned, expelled from a country and even had a bounty on his head. I am completely in awe of him – he had the courage and bravery to go where other photographers didn’t and, most importantly, he ensured that every photo he took was with compassion and respect.
He does not want to be known as a “war photographer” – just a photographer. Personally, I think he is much more than this; it really is no surprise that he is so critically acclaimed. He is described as a “legendary” photojournalist or “one of our greatest living photographers”. I do not think my words in my post today will do justice in trying to explain how his photos made me feel – “impactful” had been used to describe his photography but I think this is woefully inadequate.
“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”
The exhibition spans from his first photos that were printed in 1959 that captured the gangs (The Guv’nors) in North London, to most recently, the war in Syria. It is split out into 23 sections and I was very surprised how large the exhibition was, as it highlights McCullin’s extensive experience in capturing key moments in our modern history, in addition to, his more artistic photos of still life and landscapes.
When coming up to the exhibition entrance, note the disclaimer on the side. There are photos of deceased people and extreme starvation. I didn’t pay it too much attention and I thought that I was a tough cookie and could view the exhibition without too many issues. How very wrong I was! I was shocked myself that I could even give an outward display of emotion. Therefore, this is a warning to my readers: the exhibition is not for the faint-hearted, (this is also why I have not shared my favourite photos in the blog) be prepared to be moved to tears, particularly his work on the Biafra war. My tears reflected McCullin’s astonishing skill as a photographer; he was able to capture emotions or “the moment” that seems to be unparalleled by others. My personal favourites were his portraitures where I found myself captivated by the individual and wanting to know and understand the story behind the photograph. Though the topics were heart-wrenching, McCullin did everything to capture the truth and let the photographs tell the story.
“Photography has given me a life… The very least I could do was try and articulate these stories with as much compassion and clarity as they deserve, with as loud a voice as I could muster. Anything less would be mercenary.”
Given the topics that are covered, it was obviously not an uplifting exhibition, but very much an important one. It was a stark reminder of how terrible we, as humans, can be to each other and it is a topic that we cannot, and should not, shy away from. It is photographers like him that tell the unheard story and forces us to face reality, take action, and learn from the past. One of the best quotes I have heard from a speech summarises this perfectly:
“We seem to be able to all agree on the future, but we always argue about the past” – Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres.
I think that McCullin does just that. His photography is sensitive and poignant. I will revisit this exhibition before it closes in May. I managed to walk through the exhibition in an hour, but it was slightly rushed because I was meeting a friend after. There is a “slide show” nearer the end of the exhibition showing the photography that has been in The Observer and other newspaper outlets, unfortunately, I didn’t manage to sit through that. I think for the second time around I am going to leave more time so I can enjoy the photos for longer. This is why this exhibition gets 5 out of 5 pineapples.
Have any of you been to the exhibition or have heard of Don McCullin? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.
With Sweet and Sour Love,
Pineapple Chicken x
P.S. for those who want to learn more, there are other great reviews of the exhibitions in the link below: